Review: Hunting Hour (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima

Review: Hunting Hour (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima
Source: ARC courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 8, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Deputy Mattie Cobb is in a dark place and has withdrawn from Cole Walker and his family to work on issues from her past. When she and her K-9 partner Robo get called to track a missing junior high student, they find the girl dead on Smoker’s Hill behind the high school, and Mattie must head to the Walker home to break the bad news. But that’s only the start of trouble in Timber Creek, because soon another girl goes missing—and this time it’s one of Cole’s daughters.

Knowing that each hour a child remains missing lessens the probability of finding her alive, Mattie and Robo lead the hunt while Cole and community volunteers join in to search everywhere. To no avail. It seems that someone has snatched all trace of the Walker girl from their midst, including her scent. Grasping at straws, Mattie and Robo follow a phoned-in tip into the dense forest, where they hope to find a trace of the girl’s scent and to rescue her alive. But when Robo does catch her scent, it leads them to information that challenges everything they thought they knew about the case.

Mattie and Robo must rush to hunt down the kidnapper before they’re too late in Hunting Hour, the third installment in critically acclaimed author Margaret Mizushima’s exhilarating mystery series.

Author Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 Mystery series has fast become a mystery series that I adore. Pairing formidable deputy Mattie Cobb and her incredible police dog Robo, the Timber Creek series blends elements of suspense, police procedural work, with explorations of interpersonal relationships to terrific effect. In Hunting Hour, the third in the series, Deputy Cobb and her team face an intense, almost impossible-to-solve situation when the heartbreaking discovery of a dead body leads to a terrifying hunt that hits much too close to home.

As per the book’s description, readers are taken on an intense journey with Mattie and Robo as Timber Creek is struck- again- with news about the death of a young girl. With tensions and suspicions running high, and Mattie facing her own biases when searching for possible homicide suspects, the town of Timber Creek is on high alert. As with the two previous Timber Creek entries, there are two perspectives (in third person narratives) running parallel to one another. While Mattie is undoubtedly the lead protagonist, the series also features veterinarian Cole Walker as the alternating perspective. Cole and Mattie have become close friends- with undercurrents of romantic friction- over the course of the novels, and Hunting Hour really explores more of their increasing feelings towards one another. As the case intensifies beyond belief- when Cole’s youngest daughter goes missing- and Mattie’s personal stake in solving the case goes beyond fierce, the alternating perspectives of Mattie and Cole reach extreme peaks and realizations.

As ever, I hope to read more of Mattie and Robo in Timber Creek series entries to come. While not a cozy mystery series, there is something comforting in reading about Mattie and Robo’s phenomenal relationship- and in how the duo approach increasingly tenacious situations with hope. Mizushima has also crafted Timber Creek so well over the last three novels, welcoming new and returning readers to a well-established, wild, and magnetic (and crime-prone!) community. Hunting Hour is the strongest of the series yet, with more examination into Mattie’s personal history and psychological trauma, as well as further exploration into the intensifying relationship between Mattie and Cole Walker. Readers interested in trying a well-written mystery series featuring an unusual and unforgettable duo might do well to try Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 novels out!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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Review: Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith

Review: Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: December 13, 2016 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

NYPD Detective Claire Codella is chomping at the bit for a new case. Lieutenant McGowan is determined to keep her out of the news, but she’s about to be back in the public eye in a big way. Broadway legend Lucy Merchant has tragically succumbed to early onset Alzheimer’s. At age fifty-six, she’s tucked away in the dementia care unit of the ultra-exclusive Manhattan care facility Park Manor. When she falls asleep and doesn’t wake up, her billionaire husband is ready for the funeral, but her daughter demands an investigation.

Only three months back on the job after cancer treatment, Codella finds herself at the center of a high profile case nearly everyone–especially her lieutenant–wants to shut down. But the forensic evidence raises alarming questions and Codella needs answers. To find them, she will have to crack the defenses of slippery administrators, frightened caregivers, and unobliging family members, all while unlocking some of her own dark memories.

Forgotten City, Carrie Smith’s gripping follow-up to Silent City, pits the unrelenting detective against a cast of diverse New Yorkers driven by their desires and ambitions and haunted by their pasts. But can she piece together the truth before the murderer kills again?

Forgotten City is the very strong sophomore novel in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mystery series that began with Silent City. Tailor made for readers who enjoy their procedurals and detective-centred mysteries brisk and intelligent, Forgotten City is tightly plotted, thoroughly engaging mystery, with a terrifically formidable female detective.

The central mystery in Forgotten City is an intriguing and unusual one: Broadway legend Lucy Merchant, who had been suffering from a rare, genetic early-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease, is found dead in a premier care facility in New York. As moves are made to declare that Lucy died of natural causes, Lucy’s daughter voices her shock and disbelief to Detective Codella and claims that her mother has been murdered- possibly poisoned. Codella is just coming off successful- and well-publicized- cases; her immediate (and bigoted) superior, Dennis McGowan, jealous of Codella’s success, will do anything to keep Codella down and away from any potentially big case. Codella, rather wonderfully, navigates her way around McGowan and begins a thorough investigation into the possibility that Lucy Merchant was somehow murdered in her suite at one of the most exclusive care homes known to man. As Codella slowly but surely unfolds convoluted layers, lies from main suspects, and strange ties between the list of suspects, we gain further insight into Codella’s brutal childhood and her tentative relationship with fellow detective Brian Haggerty. Smith has done a terrific job with Forgotten City: smart, twisty, winding, and compelling from start to finish. While not absolutely essential to have read Silent City before diving into Forgotten City, I would suggest starting with the debut; not only gripping and solidly written, but Silent City also provides a firm introduction to Codella, her cancer treatment and recovery, her past and present police team members, as well as a basis of her history with Haggerty.

Overall, Forgotten City is a very well done mystery novel, with the Claire Codella mystery series being one I would absolutely recommend to fans of detective novels, or those who enjoy their reading to align with shows like The Good Wife, Law & Order, or NYPD Blue. Forgotten City does not fall into any kind of sophomore slump here, with this novel being even stronger, sharper and more evenly teased out than the (already solid) first outing.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (67): Mysteries from Maile Meloy, Gin Phillips, Susie Steiner & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: five titles on the docket and they are all mysteries and thrillers! Titles include: the soon-to-be-released latest thriller from bestselling author Ruth Ware; a very intriguing sounding mystery from Maile Meloy, author of the middle grade The Apothecary series; and the wonderfully suspenseful-sounding Fierce Kingdom from Gin Philips, which immediately grabbed my attention. There is also Persons Unknown, the new DS Manon mystery novel from Susie Steiner; I really enjoyed the cerebral Missing, Presumed, the debut in this series and am looking forward to more! Last but not least, author Julia Thomas’s sophomore mystery novel, Penhale Wood, drop in July. Thomas’s debut, The English Boys, is a clever slow-burn of a mystery, and thoroughly enjoyable, so I am excited to read more from the author.

 

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
Expected publication: June 6, 2017 by Riverhead Books
Book Description:

When Liv and Nora decide to take their families on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship’s comforts and possibilities seem infinite. The children, two eleven-year-olds, an eight-year-old, and a six-year-old, love the nonstop buffet and the independence they have at the Kids’ Club. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor misfortunes leads the families farther and farther from the ship’s safety. One minute the children are there, and the next they’re gone.

What follows is a riveting, revealing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the once-happy parents now turning on one another and blaming themselves try to recover their children and their lives.

 

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
Expected publication: July 4, 2017 by Random House Canada
Book Description:

After school on a late October day, Joan has taken her four-year-old son, Lincoln, to one of his favourite places on earth: the zoo. Just before closing time, as they need to go home, she hears some loud pops like firecrackers. Not thinking much of it, they head for the exit…until Joan realizes the eerie human emptiness means danger, then sees the figure of a lone gunman. Without another thought, she scoops up her son and runs back into the zoo. And for the next three hours–the entire scope of the novel–she does anything she can to keep Lincoln safe.
Both pulse-pounding and emotionally satisfying, Fierce Kingdom is a thrill ride, but also an exploration of the very nature of motherhood itself, from its saving graces to its savage power. At heart it asks how you draw the line between survival and the duty to protect one another? Who would you die for?

 

Persons Unknown (DS Manon #2) by Susie Steiner
Expected publication: July 4, 2017 by Random House
Book Description:

Detective Manon Bradshaw is five months pregnant and has officially given up on finding romantic love. Instead, she is in hot-pursuit of work-life balance and parked in a cold case corridor—the price she’s had to pay for a transfer back to Cambridgeshire. This is fine, she tells herself. She can devote herself to bringing up her two children—the new baby, and her adopted 12-year-old son Fly Dent. He needed a fresh start—he was being forever stopped and searched in London by officers who couldn’t see past the color of his skin. Manon feared Fly, increasingly sullen and adolescent, was getting in with the wrong crowd at school, or possibly that he was the wrong crowd. Being there for the children, and home by five, is what Manon tells herself she needs.

Yet when a wealthy victim is found stabbed close to police HQ, she can’t help but sidle in on the briefing: he is a banker from London, worth millions. More dramatically, he was also Manon’s sister Ellie’s ex, and the father of her toddler son. The investigation swirls with greater and greater urgency, and as it begins to circle in on Manon’s home and her family, she finds herself pitted against the former colleagues she once held dear—Davy Walker and Harriet Harper.

 

Penhale Wood by Julia Thomas
Expected publication: July 8, 2017 by Midnight Ink
Book Description:

On a cold December night in Cornwall, nanny Karen Peterson disappears with three-year-old Sophie Flynn. The next day, the child’s body is found on the banks of Penhale Wood.

A year later, Sophie’s mother, Iris Flynn, appears on the doorstep of investigating officer Rob McIntyre, determined to make him reopen the case. McIntyre has his own personal demons, but Iris hijacks his life in order to find the person responsible for her daughter’s death. Following the slimmest of leads, they are soon confronting ghosts from the past and a chameleon-like killer who will do anything to stay hidden.

 

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
Expected publication: July 25, 2017 by Simon & Schuster Canada
Book Description:

On a cool June morning, Isa Wilde, a resident of the seemingly idyllic coastal village of Salten, is walking her dog along a tidal estuary. Before she can stop him, Isa s dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick and to her horror, she discovers it s not a stick at all but a human bone. As her three best friends from childhood converge in Salten to comfort a seriously shaken-up Isa, terrifying discoveries are made, and their collective history slowly unravels. Tackling the slipperiness of your memories, the relativity of truth, and the danger of obsessive friendships, The Lying Game is a page-turning mystery with compelling characters and electric prose, resulting in an unputdownable thriller.

 

Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Source: ARC courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada via First Reads. Thank you!
Publication: May 9, 2017 by Viking
Book Description:

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding unnecessary human contact, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen, the three rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. Ultimately, it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repairing her own profoundly damaged one. And if she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.

Smart, warm, uplifting, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes the only way to survive is to open your heart.

I was immediately drawn to Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine as soon as I read the book’s description; but the recommendation of this title as perfect for readers of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette– which is one of my all-time favourites- was the cherry on top. Going into Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, I believe I expected something more along the lines of a touching, screwball comedy like The Rosie Project; and while there are currents of comedy in the novel, Honeyman takes a wholly unexpected route with Eleanor and presents a searingly heartbreaking yet hopeful story with her debut.

We meet almost-thirty-year-old Eleanor Oliphant as she gives us readers a brief rundown of what she does for a living as well as her structured weekly schedule; we also get to accompany her on a rather curious visit to the doctor where she requests strong pain-relieving medication. In her rapid yet clear first-person narrative, we are brought into Eleanor’s life as she anticipates great- positive- changes coming her way- courtesy of a man she thinks might be her soulmate. As we dig a little bit deeper into Eleanor’s story, though, her soulmate fixation takes a backseat to different matters. Not only does Eleanor meet a new co-worker- a rather sloppy man named Raymond- and continues to have interactions with him beyond her predictions; but we also get some frightening glimpses into how Eleanor has been treated by her mother. Vile and hateful does not begin to describe Eleanor’s mom, and as more snippets of Eleanor’s young life are revealed, clues to an unspeakable tragedy emerge. Honeyman takes some decidedly unanticipated routes with Eleanor, as well as with Eleanor’s carefully evolving acceptance of the kindhearted and no-nonsense Raymond. Part mystery, part drama, part comedy, Honeyman balances a number of story and character elements and rather masterfully threads it all together to make for an unforgettable, devastating and beautiful story.

Overall, an excellent read; Honeyman writes so seamlessly, with such self-possession, and never allows for quirk or the chance for simple laughs to get in the way of story. I read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine in a very short span of time; this likely would have been a must-finish-in-one-sitting type of read had life not gotten in the way. Crafted like a mystery and darker than I expected, Honeyman’s novel is all the stronger for how the author weaves and reveals Eleanor’s alarming history and her transforming present. I would absolutely recommend this read for readers who have enjoyed novels by Maria Semple, as well as for fans of out-of-the-ordinary literary fiction.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Top Ten Tuesday: Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want to Read A Book!

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic: things that will instantly make us want to read a book!

Ah, this is slightly tricky, I find, because though there are factors that drive me to read a title, I feel like there is a lot of serendipity, feeling and luck in how I find and read books! That being said, I’ve compiled some motivating factors (but perhaps not guaranteed reasons) I pick up a book.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Review journal recommendations…I have the great luck of getting to read numerous review journals as part of my work as a children’s librarian. I pore over School Library Journal, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books and find a lot of my picks come from these established journals and their respective reviewers
  2. Author and reviewer feedback…I have particular authors I tend to follow for picks (Vikki VanSickle and Robin Stevens are but two!), as well as bloggers whose perspectives I trust. This is not to say I will not pick up a book without their recommendations, but their positive  feedback hugely increases the chance I will read it! It also helps if an author I adore has blurbed a book I’m on the fence about- that will usually lead me to pick that book right up!
  3. Design/cover art…I feel this to be a stronger pull for children’s titles and YA. I try and keep myself to the ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover rule’, but I have to say that I really appreciate a well-designed, compelling, stand-out cover. From board books to picture books and beyond.
  4. Previous track record…these are is the must-read, go-to authors! The authors I’ve been reading and enjoying for years OR something by a new author I’ve just read and loved usually indicates that whatever they have brewing next will be an instant read.
  5. Genre…Ooh, genre! There are many genres I read, to be sure, but certain genres or angles usually indicate whether I will likely read something. Character-driven YA, contemporary or historical middle grade, British crime novels, suspense, Canadian lit in children’s, teens and adult, etc.
  6. Element of the unusual…I love the out of the norm and/or unexpected and/or oddball FUNNY kinds of read! It’s what drew me to pick up books by authors such as Claire Legrand, Louise Rennison, Don Calame, Susin Nielsen, Teresa Toten, Elinor Lipman, Brenna Yovanoff, Susan Juby, Kate Beaton, Matthew Inman, Julie Halpern…some favourites!
  7. Draws comparisons to bookish loves of my childhood…books that make me think back to Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, Louise Fitzhugh, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, Gordan Korman, are on to my must-read, whatever the genre may be.
  8. Compelling protagonist or voice…Promise me a protagonist I can root for and want to follow, or a character whose voice is strong, distinct and unforgettable, and I am there.
  9. Publishers…in the interest of transparency, I have a number of publishers with whom I work regularly, but this did not impact their place here! Some choice picks: Chronicle Books; First Second Books; Scholastic Graphix; Andrews McMeel (for comics!); Crooked Lane Books; House of Anansi/Groundwood Books; Kids Can Press; Tundra Books; Sourcebooks; Penguin Random House Canada; and more! (You’ll notice a lot of Canadian-focused publisher’s here!!)
  10. Hook in the description…There needs to be that certain something in the book description that immediately captures my attention and imagination. It’s an imprecise science, to be sure, but I oftentimes will read a description and whammo!- will know instinctively it’s something I need to read. Be it a twisted murder mystery, sweeping family saga, or contemporary Canadian coming-of-age, something has to stand out.

What’s on your top ten this week?

Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada via First Reads. Thank you!
Publication: March 25, 2014 by Ballantine Books (Trade Paperback edition)
Book Description
:

It’s January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left of the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing “important” work. But all she has to show for her efforts so far is a part in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters, and a gig waiting tables at a comedy club. Her roommates―her best friend Jane, and Dan, an aspiring sci-fi writer―are supportive, yet Franny knows a two-person fan club doesn’t exactly count as success. Everyone tells her she needs a backup plan, and though she can almost picture moving back home and settling down with her perfectly nice ex-boyfriend, she’s not ready to give up on her goal of having a career like her idols Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep. Not just yet. But while she dreams of filling their shoes, in the meantime, she’d happily settle for a speaking part in almost anything—and finding a hair product combination that works.

Everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she’ll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her. And she can’t let herself be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class, even though he’s suddenly started paying attention. Meanwhile, her bank account is rapidly dwindling, her father wants her to come home, and her agent doesn’t return her calls. But for some reason, she keeps believing that she just might get what she came for.

You know when you consider yourself a fan of someone’s oeuvre- whether they are a singer, author, activist, actress, etc.- you tend to approach any new work with equal amounts delirious excitement and major trepidation? This is how I feel about Lauren Graham and her work. I will be honest here: Gilmore Girls is one of my all-time favourite shows, thus I have adored Lauren Graham (and her portrayal of character Lorelai Gilmore) for years now. I actually held off reading Someday, Someday, Maybe when it first came out because: excitement + trepidation. But when the opportunity came up recently to read Graham’s debut novel recently, I was finally ready to dive in.

As per the book’s description, Someday, Someday, Maybe tells the story of aspiring actress Franny Banks, who is on the last six months of her self-imposed deadline to make something of herself as an actress. Taking place in New York in the mid-90s, the novel is told in Franny’s  loquacious and witty first-person narrative. Similarly to her Gilmore Girls‘ character- known for making extensive and esoteric pop culture references- Graham crafts the character of Franny as a knowledgeable, educated, highly verbose and analytical person. Franny, however, is trying to forge into the entertainment world, and that strange, illogical and often insincere world (as portrayed in the book) does not often jibe with Franny’s heart or expectations. As readers go through the whirlwind of Franny’s six month countdown, we get to meet and know three major secondary characters: her roommates Jane (a production assistant) and Dan (struggling screenwriter), as well as fellow aspiring actor (and crush) James Franklin. Jane and Dan act as the sounding board/conscience to Franny’s moments of crazy and brushes with celebrity; James becomes the voice of sincere pretension and ‘I’m an AC-TOR‘- a character that you sincerely hope Franny doesn’t become enamored of. Dan is an especially lovely, supporting character, well-written and maintained, who grows more integral to the story as Franny’s impending deadline looms.

Graham spends much of the novel (as one would expect) exploring the sometimes truly bizarre processes of auditioning, working on stage, filming shows and commercials, working with actors, agents, and more. As a well-known actress with a solid stage/theatrical background herself, Graham likely has a treasure trove of entertainment stories and unbelievable experiences: I feel as though some were carried over, if not adapted, to fit directly into Franny’s story here. Additionally, I really appreciate that Franny’s story was not one of instant success or quickly fought minor setbacks. A winning story, and one full of comedy to be sure, but Franny’s story here is also one of struggle and persistence. Of small yet tremendous feats, and of crushing lows and major doubt. Someday, Someday, Maybe is also a story that interestingly shows so much love and respect to theatre and the study of acting, yet is simultaneously wary (if not loathing) of aspects regarding celebrity and fame.

Overall, a funny and thoughtful, appealing contemporary fiction read. Franny is an effervescent, deprecating yet sincere voice- a character to adore and root for. Readers who like their reads on the side of entertaining and/or packed with fascinating insight into ‘the business we call show‘, then Someday, Someday, Maybe might especially be your cup of tea. Fans of Graham’s work, or those who have enjoyed her non-fiction title Talking As Fast As I Can (great as an audiobook), have likely already read this title, but if you haven’t yet, I would give a whirl! A note that this trade paperback version includes a conversation between Lauren Graham and Parenthood costar (and terrific actress) Mae Whitman, and is quite delightful.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Time of Death (A Stillwater General Mystery #1) by Lucy Kerr

Review: Time of Death (A Stillwater General Mystery #1) by Lucy Kerr
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: December 13, 2016 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Twelve years ago, Frankie Stapleton left the quiet town of Stillwater and moved to Chicago, leaving behind her family, their struggling hardware store, and her fiancé. Now an emergency room nurse, she’s back to help her pregnant sister, Charlie, and to put the past behind her, once and for all.

But within minutes of arriving at Stillwater General Hospital, Frankie walks into an ER overloaded with bus crash victims. Amidst the chaos, she stumbles upon a lone man suffering a cardiac arrest outside the ER bay. With no one to help him, Frankie acts to save the man’s life, despite the fact that she’s not licensed there.

After leaving the man in stable condition, Frankie finally makes it to Charlie’s bedside. But mere hours later, her patient is dead, her sister has undergone an emergency C-section, and Frankie has been slapped with the threat of a malpractice lawsuit.

Something’s not right in Stillwater, and Frankie suspects her patient didn’t die of natural causes. With her career on life support and a growing rift between Frankie and the family she left behind years ago, Frankie must catch a killer to clear her name in Time of Death, Lucy Kerr’s enthralling mystery debut.

Lucy Kerr, pen name of YA novelist Erica O’Rourke, debuts on the adult fiction scene with the mystery Time of Death. The first entry in the Stillwater General mystery series Time of Death reads like a most intriguing mash-up of the TV shows ER and Hart of Dixie (with a dash of St. Elsewhere for good measure)…think a mixture of suspense, real-life medical drama, and small-town secrets. With sharp and astute ER nurse Frankie Stapleton as our narrator and protagonist, readers are taken into the world of small-town hospital politics, suspected patient murder, and family drama.

When we meet thirty-something Frankie, she is on route to her small hometown of Stillwater, Illinois- the place she had essentially run away from twelve years before, leaving her family and old boyfriend behind. Frankie is on her way from Chicago where she works (and excels) as an emergency room nurse, back to Stillwater, to help care for her younger sister Charlie who is having unexpected complications with her second pregnancy. As Frankie comes in to town and Stillwater General hospital to see her sister and family, readers get an inside look into a bit of the tenuous history that Frankie has with her hometown and how complicated and uncomfortable her being back actually is. On top of everything else, as Frankie makes her way to the hospital, she comes to the rescue of an elderly man named Clem, who is struggling outside of the building, experiencing what appears to be a heart attack. As Frankie bursts her way into the security-lax Stillwater General, attempting to save Clem’s life, she soon finds herself heavily involved in an anomalous and possibly homicidal medical mishap that threatens her career and life.

There are two major plot lines, if you will, running in tandem over the course of Time of Death. One is that of Frankie’s return to Stillwater and the ramifications that has on her relationship with her mom, her sister, her niece, and the Stapleton family business- not to mention the implications her return has on her ex-boyfriend (currently Stillwater police officer) Noah.  The second and overarching storyline is that of the  mystery surrounding Clem’s sudden and ill-explained death. Clem’s death leads into Frankie’s involvement in investigating the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death, and the frosty relationship that forms between her and Stillwater General’s hospital administration. Kerr weaves the back and forth between the two lines very well and easily, making for irresistible reading, though I would argue that certain elements come across as the more compelling. Without spoilers here, I will say that the reveal surrounding Clem’s death is relatively uncomplicated; while the medical explications and examinations on Frankie’s part are fascinating, I did find the wind-ups to the climax had a tendency to drag just a bit and rehash material already covered. I do think, however, that the core elements involving Frankie’s tangled ties to her parents and sister, and past relationship (and now present re-acquaintanceship) with Noah to be consistently absorbing and thoughtfully done; these factors definitely upped the intensity and caliber of the story as a whole.

Overall, Time of Death is a solid, entertaining mystery that does a very good job of mixing character development and back story with an overarching medical mystery. Kerr does well in not only setting up Frankie as a character readers will want to follow, but also in laying the groundwork of Stillwater General hospital, the town, Frankie’s family, and relationship with Noah. There are a number of exciting places that Kerr can take Frankie and Stillwater General; I was hooked into Frankie’s voice and story from early on, and do hope to see and read more titles in this series.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (62): Mysteries from Caite Dolan-Leach, Patty Yumi Cottrell, Christina Kovac & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: mysteries! I’ve been on a mini reading spell of mystery novels lately. First there were two Crooked Lane Books titles I zoomed through (Stalking Ground and Time of Death), then I read Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me , and lastly, I dove into Mindy Mejia’s Everything You Want Me to Be after a friend of my sang its praises. All were well-reviewed novels that I thought were solidly done; I enjoyed them tremendously and so of course my reading radar went on to pick out more great-sounding adult fiction/mystery/suspense titles and I’ve added them to my TBR! The following titles are ones I’ve come across through Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, or browsing through Goodreads. All sound fantastic!

 

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach
Publication: February 21, 2017 by Random House
Book Description:

Ava Antipova has her reasons for running away: a failing family vineyard, a romantic betrayal, a mercurial sister, an absent father, a mother slipping into dementia. In Paris, Ava acquires a French boyfriend and a taste for much better wine, and erases her past. But two years later, she must return to upstate New York. Her twin sister, Zelda, is dead.

Even in a family of alcoholics, Zelda Antipova was the wild one, notorious for her mind games and destructive behavior. Stuck tending the vineyard and the girls’ increasingly unstable mother, Zelda is allegedly burned alive when she passes out in the barn with a cigarette. But Ava finds the official explanation a little too neat. A little too Zelda. Then she receives a cryptic message—from her sister. Just as Ava suspected, Zelda’s playing one of her games. In fact, she’s outdone herself, leaving a series of clues to her disappearance. Ava follows the trail laid just for her, thinking like her sister, keeping her secrets, immersing herself in Zelda’s drama. Along the way, Zelda forces Ava to confront their twisted history and the boy who broke her heart. But why? Is Zelda trying to punish Ava for leaving? To teach her a lesson? Or is she simply trying to write her own ending?

Caite Dolan-Leach’s debut suspense takes readers on a literary scavenger hunt for clues concealed throughout the seemingly idyllic wine country, hidden in plain sight on social media, and buried at the heart of one tremendously dysfunctional, utterly unforgettable family.

 

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell
Publication: March 14, 2017 by McSweeney’s
Book Description:

Helen Moran is thirty-two years old, single, childless, college-educated, and partially employed as a guardian of troubled young people in New York. She’s accepting a delivery from IKEA in her shared studio apartment when her uncle calls to break the news: Helen’s adoptive brother is dead.

According to the internet, there are six possible reasons why her brother might have killed himself. But Helen knows better: she knows that six reasons is only shorthand for the abyss. Helen also knows that she alone is qualified to launch a serious investigation into his death, so she purchases a one-way ticket to Milwaukee. There, as she searches her childhood home and attempts to uncover why someone would choose to die, she will face her estranged family, her brother’s few friends, and the overzealous grief counselor, Chad Lambo; she may also discover what it truly means to be alive.

 

The Cutaway by Christina Kovac
Expected publication: March 21, 2017 by Atria / 37 INK
Book Description:

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.

Harkening to dark thrillers such as Gone Girl, Luckiest Girl Alive, and Big Little Lies, The Cutaway is a striking debut that will haunt you long after you reach the last page.

 

The Girl Who Was Taken by Charlie Donlea
Expected publication: April 25, 2017 by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Book Description:

Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald are both high school seniors in the small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina. When they disappear from a beach party one warm summer night, police launch a massive search. No clues are found, and hope is almost lost until Megan miraculously surfaces after escaping from a bunker deep in the woods.

A year later, the bestselling account of her ordeal has turned Megan from local hero to national celebrity. It s a triumphant, inspiring story, except for one inconvenient detail: Nicole is still missing. Nicole’s older sister Livia, a fellow in forensic pathology, expects that one day soon Nicole’s body will be found, and it will be up to someone like Livia to analyze the evidence and finally determine her sister’s fate. Instead, the first clue to Nicole s disappearance comes from another body that shows up in Livia’s morgue that of a young man connected to Nicole’s past. Livia reaches out to Megan for help, hoping to learn more about the night the two were taken. Other girls have gone missing too, and Livia is increasingly certain the cases are connected.

But Megan knows more than she revealed in her blockbuster book. Flashes of memory are coming together, pointing to something darker and more monstrous than her chilling memoir describes. And the deeper she and Livia dig, the more they realize that sometimes true terror lies in finding exactly what you’ve been looking for.

 

Our Little Secret by Roz Nay
Expected publication: June 6, 2017 by Simon & Schuster
Book Description:

The detective wants to know what happened to Saskia, as if I could just skip to the ending and all would be well. But stories begin at the beginning and some secrets have to be earned.

Angela is being held in a police interrogation room. Her ex’s wife has gone missing and Detective Novak is sure Angela knows something, despite her claim that she’s not involved.

At Novak’s prodding, Angela tells a story going back ten years, explaining how she met and fell in love with her high school friend HP. But as her past unfolds, she reveals a disconcerting love triangle and a dark, tangled web of betrayals. Is Angela a scorned ex-lover with criminal intent? Or a pawn in someone else’s revenge scheme? Who is she protecting? And why?

Twisty and suspenseful, Our Little Secret is an intense cat-and-mouse game and a riveting thriller about the lies we tell others—and ourselves.

Review: Stalking Ground (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #2) by Margaret Mizushima

Review: Stalking Ground (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #2) by Margaret Mizushima
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 13, 2016 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

When Deputy Ken Brody’s sweetheart goes missing in the mountains outside Timber Creek, Mattie Cobb and Robo are called to search. But it’s mid-October and a dark snow storm is brewing over the high country–and they’re already too late. By the time they find her body, the storm has broken and the snow is coming down hard.

While Brody hikes down to bring back the forensics team and veterinarian Cole Walker gathers supplies to protect them from the storm, Mattie and Robo find themselves alone, guarding the gravesite overnight in the dead of the early winter. And that’s only the first long, dark night in a series of them, because as their investigation develops, Mattie, Robo, Brody, and Cole find themselves in the middle of the killer’s stalking ground–with no way out unless they can catch a predator more deadly than any natural threat.

An effortlessly engrossing read filled with tension, excitement, and heart, Stalking Ground, the second in Margaret Mizushima’s lauded debut series, will send a chill down every reader’s spine.

The first entry into Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 Mystery series, Killing Trail, was met with strong praise and starred reviews from multiple review journals. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s debut novel and had been looking forward to continuing on with the singular mystery series featuring Officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo. Book two, Stalking Ground, picks up soon after the end of the first novel, and is an engrossing, well-plotted, and suspenseful read- a worthy sophomore novel that also packs some serious surprises.

After the tragic events that transpired over the course of book one, Mattie and her police team- as well the members of small town Timber Creek- are uneasy and on heightened alert for suspicious activity. When the girlfriend of Mattie’s police colleague Ken Brody goes missing under decidedly peculiar circumstances, Mattie and her police team are immediately guarded and on edge. When Mattie is sent out to do some initial investigating into the case with Robo, a number of red flags go up, leading Mattie to lose hope about the chances of Adrienne’s survival. As Adrienne’s case deepens and Mattie and Robo find themselves on a tricky maze, finding more out about Adrienne’s past and attempting to expose lies, a surprising lead opens up, taking Mattie, Robo and Ken down an incredibly dangerous path.

In the first novel, we were introduced to a character named Cole Walker, a father and highly-regarded town veterinarian who slowly becomes a friend to Mattie- and to Robo. He and Mattie’s third-person narratives once again rotate in Stalking Ground; this time, his storyline overlaps with Mattie’s investigation even more closely. Mizushima makes the most of their alternating narratives and propels the urgency and ‘who done it’ of Adrienne’s case very well by running a parallel storyline involving Cole that eventually meets up with Mattie’s. As in Killing Trail, Mizushima does wonders in creating a wholly compelling (and fascinating!) police team in Mattie and Robo; in Stalking Ground, readers are given even more insight into the training that Mattie and Robo do to hone and perfect their working relationship and Robo’s superior- incredible- skills.  Mizushima also delves more into Mattie’s history, offering some intense and heartbreaking backstory into Mattie’s life with her birth parents and siblings, likely ensuring that even more about Mattie’s backstory is to be explored in future novels.

Overall, Stalking Ground is a strong, tightly plotted and terrifically executed read. Mizushima continues to impress with her distinctive area of K-9 mystery writing. As our protagonist, Mattie is a terrific, intriguing character who we are slowly but surely learning more about. In addition to that, her and Robo’s relationship is one that absolutely fascinates; readers are shown even deeper acumen into Mattie and Robo’s working relationship and their incredible skills as a human-canine team. Any readers who previously enjoyed Killing Trail  would do well do continue on with the series as it is only getting better. Stalking Ground plays off of all of the strengths in the well-done first novel and excels here with a first-rate sophomore entry. Readers looking to try out a mystery series with a unique edge or who are looking for a more police-work focused mystery series might especially love this series.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Top Ten Tuesday: Recently Added to My To-Be-Read Shelf

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. I have not been doing a great job (at all!) keeping up and participating, but I have been inspired this week! Now, this week is actually a freebie week, so I thought I’d focus on titles recently added to my to-be-read shelf!

A blend of picture books, mystery and fiction…In no particular order, here they are:

1. Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin– a wordless picture book that I have been reading wonderful reviews about. Graegin’s illustrative work is lovely!

2. The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken– described as Zoom meets Beautiful Oops!, I’m looking forward to seeing this gorgeous-looking picture book in person.

3. I Don’t Draw, I Color! by Adam Lehrhaupt, illus. Felicita Sala– regular readers of my picture book posts might know I just adore Lehrhaupt’s work! As soon as I saw this latest one come up on Goodreads, it went right to my must-read.

4. I Hate Everyone, Except You by Clinton Kelly. Any other folks here who watched TLC’s What Not to Wear? I’ve read and really enjoyed Kelly’s previously published fashion/entertainment books (love his humour and snark). I Hate Everyone, Except You is a little bit different- this one is actually a memoir- a collection of personal essays- and it sounds fantastic.

5. Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide, with illustrations by Sergio Ruzzier– a new edition of Parry Heide’s classic. I feel as though I have read this, many years ago, but I just cannot recall! In any event, I’m looking forward to rediscovering (or discovering!) this book, and can’t wait to see Ruzzier’s illustrations!

The next four are titles I added to my TBR immediately after reading terrific reviews for in Publisher’s Weekly:

6. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot– a fascinatingly described non-fiction title

7. Find Me by J.S. Monroe– a right-up-my-alley kind of thriller…

8. The Girl from Rawblood by Catriona Ward– a gothic horror/mystery!

9. Say Nothing by Brad Parks– another taut thriller that sounds just like something I’d be interested in!

10. Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett– an unmissable cover, intriguing description and narrator? Yes, please!

What’s on your Top Ten Tuesday this week?