Friday, November 30, 2018

Grateful for this sheltered place: NINE PERFECT STRANGERS.

Nine Perfect StrangersNine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

Nine disparate strangers are gathering at Tranquillum House, a gated health resort. Each is seeking a form of peace and change: through meditation, losing weight, counseling, and more. For Frances Welty, a famous romance novelist, she needs a way to start over. Her back is in intense pain, and she's hurting from both a romantic misstep and a harsh review of her work. But once at Tranquillum House, Frances isn't exactly sure what to think. The owner, Masha, is both dynamic and odd. What exactly does she have in store for Frances and her fellow resort-goers?

Well, this was an interesting one, to say the least, and not really what I was expecting! So, at first, it drew me in immediately, with a quick introduction to Masha and her associate Yao, in the past, and then fast forwarding to Tranquillum House. You then meet all the various "strangers" at the resort. It's a pretty easy read; each character has their own unique voice, though it did take me some time to sort them all out and keep track of some of them.

However, once they are at the House, things sort of slow down (which you'll find especially ironic, as the book is filled with little insider jokes about books and writing, including a particularly apropos mention of pace from Frances). Everyone is there, they have to take a vow of silence (umm, ok?), they can't read (what?! I'd be out of there!), and you're wondering what on earth is happening as your characters just sort of sit around and ponder to themselves. Oh, but don't worry, dear Reader, it's going to get much weirder.

Because the thing with this book is that so many of the characters are great--I really liked Frances, for instance, and Zoe, and Tony, and well--a lot of them--but the plot they are dropped into becomes almost too preposterous. It felt as if Moriarty was trying to see how crazy she was allowed to go, but no one was brave enough to stop her, so she just kept going. It was odd, and hard to believe, and I just couldn't rationalize that everything that went on would really occur, could really occur, etc.

And, as I said, it's a shame, because so much of the book is funny, with these great characters, and some of it is gut-wrenching, and so well-done. There's a family whose son has committed suicide, and oh my goodness; their passages are just devastating. It's been nearly 15 years since I lost my loved one to suicide, and yet these parts of the story were so real and so well-done, they were almost too hard to read: they hit me right in the gut.

Also, as mentioned, Moriarty fits in a lot of fun little asides about reading and writing books--some about romances, due to Frances' occupation, but some just writing in general, and it's very meta and very cool. Big portions of the book are really humorous, real, and fun. So it's sad that I wasn't really sure of the overall point of the book and its insane plot.

The end of the book picks up too, which complicates my rating even more. Let's recap, shall we: oft funny and heart-wrenching story with realistic characters marred by an unbelievable plot that carries over for most of the book. What to do, what to do? In the end, between 3 - 3.5 stars, so let's go with 3.25 stars. It's quite a book, that's for sure!

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Monday, November 26, 2018

I don't need ribbons and bows to cure my woes: THE ADULTS.

The AdultsThe Adults by Caroline Hulse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Matt and Claire are no longer married, but both want to spend the Christmas holiday with their seven-year-old daughter, Scarlett. It's not quite clear whose idea it was, or how the whole thing came about, but suddenly Matt, Claire, their new partners, and Scarlett are spending a long weekend at the Happy Forest holiday park. Oh yes, and we can't forget that Posey, Scarlett's giant imaginary friend--a nearly life-size rabbit--is along for the ride too. Claire has brought Patrick, a fellow lawyer, a seemingly rational guy who loves Scarlett and is training for an Ironman. And Matt has brought Alex, his scientist girlfriend, who is skeptical about the whole affair. Suddenly the group is jammed into a small lodge, subject to the whims of a mercurial seven-year-old (and her pretend rabbit), and stuck doing a variety of "fun family activities." It's no wonder that this all leads to an event so horrific that the police are called.

This book was an odd one, as if it couldn't decide to be serious or funny. It starts out with a call to the police, so we know that someone has been shot at archery, but we don't yet know who. Then things unfold from the beginning of the holiday, slowly building back up to the incident. Interspersed with the characters' narratives are bits and pieces of the police's discussion with various people at the holiday park involved with the shooting. It's interesting, but it's a little disconcerting: partial mystery/partial character-driven novel/partial "humorous look at family fun gone wrong."

Unfortunately for me, I didn't find a lot of the book all that fun. Yes, I could see the humor in some of the situations, but honestly, a lot of it just made me uncomfortable. Perhaps it's being a child of divorce myself. Maybe too much hit close to home. I felt the most for poor Alex, who was tortured by Scarlett (and that darn fake bunny) and then forced to witness her boyfriend in a series of cozy moments with her ex. Patrick was slightly insane, Claire too good to be true, and Matt, honestly, an infuriating wuss for most of the book. As everyone got more and more tired of each other, I would have had a feeling of doom reading this even without knowing someone gets shot. You just know no good can come of this.

Now, yes, there is some dark humor here, and I did laugh at times. There are definitely some funny places. But I think Scarlett and Posey were supposed to be more funny than they were (I've been that kid angry at her parents for divorcing, but man, Scarlett was really irritating sometimes). When you really only feel for one of the characters (Alex), it's hard to stay invested in the book. Luckily, things improved a bit closer to the end, and I found myself getting a more into the story. Still, I couldn't help but find things a bit implausible and frustrating at times, and I really longed for more of the hilarity the book promised.

Overall, this is a quick read, and it has its funny, crazy moments. Still, the characters are tough to feel invested in and sometimes the plot was almost too zany and stressful for me. I liked this one, but didn't love it. 3+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and LibraryThing in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

She wasted too much time on wasted tears: SWEET LITTLE LIES.

Sweet Little Lies (Cat Kinsella, #1)Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Young Detective Constable Catrina (Cat) Kinsella hasn't had the easiest of lives--she didn't get along well with her father and her mother has since passed away. At twenty-six, Cat is in counseling after a traumatic incident while on the job, and she spends most of her nights alone, plagued by insomnia. She isn't close to her family, including her father, sister, or brother. Her latest case is that of thirty-five-year old Alice Lapaine, who is found murdered and dumped in Leamington Square. Alice too led a solitary life, spending weeks away from her husband, Thomas, who quickly becomes the team's top suspect. But then they receive a call--Alice isn't Alice, but rather Maryanne Doyle, a teenager who went missing in Ireland nearly twenty years ago. Suddenly, Cat's world is upside down. After all, she knew Maryanne, whom her family met while visiting Cat's grandmother when Cat was eight. And Cat has always suspected her father had something to do with Maryanne's sudden disappearance. Cat chooses not to tell her DCI about the linkages between Maryanne and her father, but this choice may have serious consequences: for Cat, her career, and her entire family.

"I feel it's necessary to make clear that I know nothing about what happened to Maryanne Doyle, the girl who went to Riley's for hairspray and never came back. I have my suspicions, of course. I speculate plenty, especially after white wine. But when it comes right down to it, I actually know nothing. The same cannot be said of my father."

This was an interesting, complicated tale. The mystery aspect of it was actually really fascinating, with the linkages slowly building between Alice and Maryanne, as we try to figure out what happened between Maryanne disappearing as a teen, her becoming Alice and then winding up murdered. Overall, I really enjoyed that part of the book. Frear has a lot of good surprises for us, and I was kept guessing for most of the novel.

The personal side of the book was a little harder for me. Don't get me wrong, I did like Cat. She certainly is a complicated character. I have to admit that characters that don't tell the truth or narratives that revolve around this aspect of keeping the truth hidden can be a bit of a pet peeve of mine. So basically an entire book that involves the main character keeping such a big secret (my Dad knew my murder victim, who was found a few paces outside the pub he owns)--that was tough for me. The more involved Cat gets in her case and the more entwined the case becomes with her own life and past: ugh. It all felt a little wrong and icky for me.

Honestly, I probably would have enjoyed this book more if the personal ties to Cat weren't there, or weren't so strong. I recognize they existed to give her depth and add more to the story and case, but they just made me uncomfortable and almost added an extra layer to the mystery that I felt wasn't necessary. Things were already twisty enough, it seemed as we didn't need this whole additional convoluted element with Cat's family. But maybe that's just me and my aversion to lying and such. (I don't even like when this happens in movies and eventually you know it's all going to come out and bad things will happen.)

This is not a simple book, and the story told is a perplexing and sophisticated one: you really have to be ready to follow along. On the plus side, it's original, and the characters are rather unique. I'm intrigued that it looks like Cat will be part of a series. I did like this book, even if some elements were a little harder for me to enjoy, and it was well-written. I'd certainly pick up the next book in a series and perhaps if her family wasn't so entwined in her case, enjoy it even more. 3.5 stars for this one.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Monday, November 19, 2018

I don't think on why I'm here or where it hurts: DARK SACRED NIGHT.

Dark Sacred Night (Renée Ballard, #2; Harry Bosch, #21; Harry Bosch Universe, #31)Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Renee Ballard is working her usual late night shift when she finds a man going through files at the station. It turns out this stranger is Harry Bosch, a retired detective, who is working on a cold case that has turned personal. Ballard sends him on his way, but begins looking into the files Bosch was flipping through. Once she does, she becomes interested in the case too: fifteen-year-old Daisy, a runaway who was horrifically murdered, her body left on the streets. Ballard begins investigating the case as well, forming an alliance with Bosch and attempting to find out what happened to Daisy nearly a decade ago.

I was a little leery when I learned that Connelly was going to combine Renee's story with my beloved Harry Bosch's (let's just say I love Bosch too much to share him), but this book was really excellent, and I found myself enjoying the two of them together. The narrative switches between Ballard and Bosch, so we still get to hear from each character separately: it's just their stories and lives that start to overlap. This overlap happened pretty naturally, and honestly, their burgeoning partnership/friendship was fun to see. There's a moment in the book when someone asks the pair how they want some files, and Ballard responds "digital" and Bosch, "print," and we get a sense of the fact that--no matter how clever and similar they are--Bosch is truly our old school guy and Ballard is the new blood. So combining forces might not be so bad after all.

I love Harry Bosch. I've loved him for about seven years now, since I discovered this series, and I will always adore him, and I don't like that he's aging, and yeah. I'm attached. Reading his sections was like being back with an old friend. Connelly has Bosch's character and voice so perfected by now. I don't want to reveal too much, but this book ties back to the previous a bit (though it will work on its own), so we see Bosch struggling with some of the choices he made in the last book and figuring out exactly where he stands in his career. I won't lie: it's hard to see him age and even to be fallible.

I really tried to read this one slowly and savor it, as Connelly books (especially with Bosch) just don't come along every day. I love how Connelly seems to know so much (e.g., police procedures, gang wars and rituals, even about surfing), but it never feels like he's over explaining anything. Even better, you always get such a good story. I enjoy how he ties so many of his disparate plot pieces together, or comes back to something you think is totally unrelated. And there's always some sort of recent pop culture worked in (a bit of the #MeToo movement pops up here).

There's a lot going on this book--after all, we get cases from both Bosch and Ballard, plus their shared pursuit of justice for Daisy, but it all works in Connelly's deft hands. He is the master of interlocking stories. Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I was fascinated to see Bosch and Ballard interact, and I was so glad to have another episode featuring my beloved Bosch. If you're a Bosch fan, I think you'll like this one. And if you just enjoy a good, well-plotted mystery, I highly recommend this one as well. 4.5 stars.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

I'm the fallen man's daughter: SAILING LESSONS.

Sailing LessonsSailing Lessons by Hannah McKinnon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Bailey sisters grew up on Cape Cod--and overall, they are fairly close. The sisters are particularly bonded by the fact that their father, Caleb, left when they were small, after a traumatic incident that affected each sister in their own way. Wren remained on the island and is now raising her daughter, Lucy, while juggling an attempt to open a small business. Her older sister, Shannon, is a perfectionist leading a picture-perfect Cape life with her husband and three children: at least that's how it appears. As for the youngest, Piper, who barely even remembers her father: she fled to Boston, where she's spent years pursuing educational degrees she isn't sure she wants. And her love life? Don't ask. The girls' mother, Lindy, has settled down on the island with her second husband, Hank. All in all, everyone has a routine. But Caleb disturbs all that when he sends a letter, asking to return and see the girls again. Each sister responds differently to his return, and each much confront their own past--and present--in light of Caleb's presence.

I really enjoyed this book, and I found myself quite enraptured by its characters. I'm a sucker for some island-themed fiction (I'd love to go to the Cape or Nantucket someday, though I'll be so sad when everyone there isn't grappling with family issues and/or falling in love at first sight!). This was one of the books that I read at the right time, as I needed a story I could escape into. I started it while I was on "vacation" (a trip to Great Wolf Lodge with six-year-old twins - you determine if this counts as a vacation), and I found myself wishing I could transport myself to a beach somewhere to finish it.

The characters in this tale are simply interesting and fascinating. I don't know how else to say it, except I liked them, you know? OK, it took a little while to warm up to Shannon, but I could definitely relate to bits of her anxious characteristics. But I especially loved Wren and Hank. I could just picture them so easily, and I was rooting for them the entire way. (I sort of want Hank to be my Dad now.) Even Caleb was an intriguing sort of guy in his own way.

"He'd been given a talent for capturing images and a woman whom he'd loved with a fierceness that he could never seem to capture. And he'd lost it all."

So, yes, there's a bit of predictability to this one, but there's a comfortableness to it that I really liked (and needed). And there were definitely some pieces I didn't always see coming, too. Plus, I was so caught up in the characters that I was along for the ride, no matter what. They were well-written, and I was invested in their lives, which is a sign of good women's fiction, in my opinion. I had a bit of a dysfunctional childhood myself, so maybe I could relate well to this one; it just worked well for me.

"'Memory has weight. We carry it around with us in our baskets.' It had sounded lovely to her ears as a kid, this bountiful collection: a bushel of fruit, a bouquet of flowers. But as she grew, it took on a new meaning. There were days Shannon wished to set her basket of memories down; days she wished to abandon it altogether."

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Interesting characters, easy-moving plot--it was just a good read. I was actually a little sad to say goodbye to the sisters and their clan by the end. 4 stars.

I received my copy of this book through one of my favorite websites,, where you can swap copies of all your favorite books (hardcover, paperback, and more). Look, I'm doing a little better at trying to read books I actually *own* (though this will be re-swapped soon)!

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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Say they haven't seen a thing: THE LINE THAT HELD US.

The Line That Held UsThe Line That Held Us by David Joy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Darl Moody has been after this infamous giant buck for years. So when he hears his neighbor has gone away for a week, he takes the opportunity to go hunting--off-season and illegally--on his land. But Darl never imagined it would end like this: it isn't the buck he kills, it's Carol Brewer, a member of a local family known for violence and hatred. Scared and panicked, Darl turns to his best friend, Calvin Hooper, for help. But when Carol remains missing and his brother Dwayne comes looking for him, the clues quickly point to Darl and Calvin. And Dwayne is looking for vengeance--and someone's blood.

"There were some things worth dying for and some things worth killing for and some things could make a man do all sorts of things he never knew he was capable of until the time came to do them."

Well, this was a dark story about morality and humanity that drew me in to its twisted world immediately. I've never read a book by David Joy before, but wow, he can really write. There's almost a lyrical, poetic manner to the way he puts his words together, which stands in stark contrast to the gruesome tale he tells. Believe me, this isn't a book for the faint of heart. If you're easily offended by gore, this might not be for you.

However, it's certainly an emotional story about family and friendship. I've lived in or near small towns like Darl's and Dwight's--where everyone knows everyone else and family grudges run back generations. Joy captures it perfectly. It's wonderfully descriptive and excellently written, and each of the characters stand out so well. What I found so interesting and surprising was his way of making me feel for all the characters, even though most of them were making poor decisions, even terrible ones. You can feel their conflict and emotions quite clearly.

"Things had a way of never leaving these mountains. Stories took root like everything else... Just as Dwayne told him the night before, a man's mind is its own kind of hell."

Overall, I didn't always enjoy this book, because it's a brutal read at times, but I was wowed by the writing and Joy's storytelling. The characters are complex, and the novel presents some fascinating complexities. It was an interesting and worthwhile read. 4 stars.

I received my copy of this book through one of my favorite websites,, where you can swap copies of all your favorite books (hardcover, paperback, and more).

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Thursday, November 08, 2018

You can't make your heart feel something it won't: PULP.

PulpPulp by Robin Talley

My rating: 4.5+ of 5 stars

In 2017, Abby Zimet is struggling. Things are tough at home--her parents can barely stand to be in the same room together. Plus, Abby and her girlfriend, Linh, broke up in June. Abby thought it would only be temporary, but now school has started, and here they are: still friends, still broken up. Abby can't seem to concentrate on school or her senior project. That is until she discovers 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. In particular, a book called "Women of the Twilight Realm." Abby becomes obsessed with the author, who wrote under the name Marian Love. If Abby can somehow track down Marian, maybe life won't be so bad after all. Cut to 1955, where eighteen-year-old Janet Jones is in love with her best friend, Marie. It's a huge secret: one that could destroy their lives and that of their families. Marie is trying to get her security clearance with the State Department, after all. But when Janet finds a book at the bus station by an author called Dolores Wood, which features women falling in love with women, she starts to realize she isn't alone. And Janet, an aspiring writer, begins to wonder if there's more out there than the life that's always been planned for her.

"Janet had never understood, not until she turned the thin brown pages of Dolores Wood's novel, that other girls might feel the way she did. That a world existed outside the one she'd always known."

I loved this book so incredibly much that I can't even really explain it. It was captivating and beautiful and tragic and just appealed to me on so many levels. I have always been interested in lesbian pulp fiction since doing a project on it for a Queer Studies class in college, so it was so fascinating to read about Abby's research within the pages of this novel.

Talley effortlessly weaves so many narratives within this one that it sort of leaves you breathless at times. We have Abby's narrative, Janet's narrative, and then excerpts from the book by Marian Love that Abby grows to love so much, "Women of the Twilight Realm." The parallels are really striking between Abby and Janet, as each are discovering lesbian pulp fiction in their own era and using it to grow and learn about themselves.

Even more, we see how much things have changed between the 1950s and 2017. It's horrifying to see what Janet (and the entire gay community) had to endure, and the book really serves to educate on how terrible things were then. While I knew bits and pieces about the Lavender Scare, its ties to our actual characters here really brings it home. I have to say, I just adored Janet. She seems so incredibly real, and I just fell for her and her incredible strength and bravery. I think she will remain one of my favorite characters in lesbian fiction (and all fiction) for all time.

As for Abby, I really liked her too, although in some of her sections, I was more captivated by her research than her story. Still, she presents a poignant tale of a young bisexual trying to find herself, and I appreciated the diverse set of characters with whom she surrounds herself. Abby and her friends stand in stark contrast to Janet in their sexual freedoms, but, in many ways, they aren't so different at heart.

"That was the best part of being in love. The way it set the rest of the world on mute."

I just really really loved this book. It has so much of what I love--lesbians, diverse characters, passionate and realistic storylines, well-done research, literary references and ties. Reading Janet and Abby's stories took me back to a time when I wasn't yet out and when I had first come out--when the world wasn't yet so forgiving (not that it always is, but things were pretty different even 15+ years ago). I remember how much comfort books provided me, how wonderful it was to realize I wasn't alone in the world. I love how well this book shows that fact, and how the books-within-the book are almost their own characters.

Overall, I can't recommend this one enough. It's just a beautiful, well-written story, and, to top it off, it's informative to boot. The characters are lovely, the story is amazing, and it really leaves you feeling a bit awed. Highly recommend. 4.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 11/13/2018.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

I knew how love felt: AFTER NIGHTFALL.

After NightfallAfter Nightfall by A.J. Banner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marissa Parlette is newly engaged to Nathan, an EMT, and working on integrating herself into his life and that of his young daughter, Anna. She is also trying to slowly reconcile with Nathan's neighbor, Lauren, who also happens to be Marissa's childhood best friend. The two parted ways after an incident in college. But then--after a dinner party at Nathan's to celebrate his birthday--Marissa awakens early and finds Lauren's battered body at the bottom of the cliff behind her house. What happened to Lauren? Did she jump? Fall? Or was she pushed? Marissa starts to investigate what happened, but soon finds she can't trust anything or anyone, including her own fiance.

This was my second A.J. Banner book, and it was a bit of a strange one. I didn't enjoy it as much as The Twilight Wife, but it is definitely a quick and interesting read. I flew through the pages, as Bannon is extremely good at casting suspicion on everyone in the novel. It becomes apparent quickly that Lauren's death wasn't an accident, so you start trying to guess who did it, and while everyone seems a suspect, I had difficultly figuring out "whodunnit," which was fun.

Not so fun was the fact that Marissa, our main character, drove me a bit crazy. I understand that she would be upset by the death of her former best friend, but she became utterly obsessed, investigating in a strange tunnel vision sort of way that seemed almost deranged. Yet, it seemed like she was clueless in some ways, unable to grasp some facts that were pretty easy for the rest of us to figure out. She was also rather self-centered, insecure, and whiny, and I had a tough time rooting for her. I really didn't enjoy any of the characters, honestly, beside Nathan's daughter, Anna. (Poor kid; she didn't deserve having to live with any of those people.)

Overall, I enjoyed the page-turner aspect of this one, and the fact I was constantly kept guessing. The characters and their weird motivations? Eh. Not so much. Still, this was a quick, easy read. 3 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Friday, November 02, 2018

I'm out on the wind tonight: LOST LAKE.

Lost Lake (Detective Gemma Monroe, #3)Lost Lake by Emily Littlejohn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a bright May day when Cedar Valley Detective Gemma Monroe is called to Lost Lake. Sari Chesney, who was camping with her boyfriend, his brother, and her best friend, has gone missing. Sari hated the water, and the group is convinced she would never go missing on her own so near the lake. Sari was scheduled to work at a big gala at Cedar Valley's museum later that evening--a huge event she had been working on for months. Her friends insist she would never miss it. It's still chilly in Colorado in May, the lake still tinged in ice. Gemma begins the search for Sari, not realizing how quickly one woman's disappearance will lead to so much more.

"Later, much later, I would regret every decision I made that morning."

This is the third book in Emily Littlejohn's Gemma Monroe series, and I really enjoy both Gemma's character and the series. The books stand alone, but it's an enjoyable series, and I do recommend reading them from the beginning. At this point, Gemma has a six-month-old daughter, Grace, with her fiance, Brody, and one of my favorite things about the books is how realistically Littlejohn paints Gemma's struggles as a working mom. She loves her career and yet finds it difficult to leave Grace and juggle working and caring for her daughter.

Gemma is a great character overall, and I always enjoy reading a strong mystery that features a female detective. We find Gemma not only dealing with Sari's disappearance, but several more things that happen in the aftermath, which lead to her becoming quite busy, and allow us a solid set of cases to follow. This one kept me guessing the whole way, with a few good twists thrown in too. There's occasionally a bit of telling versus showing, but overall Littlejohn is a strong writer, and you can't help but root for Gemma.

In this one, I especially felt like Gemma was growing as a person, as we find her struggling in her partnership with Finn (her fellow detective) and second guessing some of the decisions she makes in Sari's case. It's nice to see a story where everything isn't easy, cut and dried, and our heroine seems so human and regular. One of the things I like so much about Gemma is that she seems like someone you could befriend (if maybe she let her walls down once in a while). It leads to an insightful and thoughtful book coupled with a good mystery (or two) as well.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. I feel like I can always count on Littlejohn for some excellent characterization with Gemma, and I found the plot to be interesting. It kept me engaged and guessing. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 11/06/2018.

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