Review: “SINthetic (The New Lyons Sequence #1)” by J.T. Nicholas

cover of SINthetic (The New Lyons

A review by Amanda.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Detective Jason Campbell has been called to investigate a gruesome murder. A young woman has been found, murdered and disemboweled. She isn’t the first, and she isn’t human. Synthetics are human-like beings who are “born” in a lab and raised for the sole purpose of doing any number of less than desirable jobs. They are expensive, and have no rights under the law. Synthetics bleed, feel, and think but they are programmed to follow instructions and are incapable of hurting humans or other synthetics. They are property and nothing more. Detective Campbell should dismiss this case as destruction of property, at best, and move on. A mysterious source calls the detectives attention to the previous murders of other young, synthetic women, and Campbell knows that he cannot let it rest. His own history informs his decision to investigate these as serial murders, without the knowledge of his superiors, and with only a unique synthetic to offer limited assistance. His life is on the line, as he sniffs out corruption at the highest levels of society.

This book has the feel of an old detective noir film, but without the rampant sexism. Detective Campbell is an individual with layers and depth, which come to light at a steady pace. Supporting characters are few, but reasonably developed and well-rounded. Hopes for more depth and background on these characters in future books are high. Even so, the limited knowledge of these characters works with the story, as readers see it from Campbell’s perspective. He’s a bit of a loner and wouldn’t know too much about the people around him, so this makes sense. While this hampers the readers’ ability to connect to other characters, it does enhance the story to be so ensconced in the main character’s point of view.

SINthetic’s plot is primarily a wonderfully twisted mystery, with decent action sequences, and moral quandaries that will raise ire and make readers think and question what they know about humanity. The story moves quickly and makes for a fast read. There are descriptions of violence and sexual assault but they come across as detached, more like a police report, and details are scant.

Book one is available now, with the second due in March 2018.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Returning the Golden-Eyed Girl” by S.G. Meine

A review by Amanda.

A copy of this book was provided for free by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Amelia Pritchett, seventeen-year-old, has accidentally set off a chain of events that could have devastating consequences. She has accomplished something that no one has been able to do in thirty years. The floating city of Ixus, populated by some of the world’s wealthiest and well-connected citizens, has been silent since one of the worst pandemics swept the Earth’s surface three decades prior. There has been no communication and no sign of life on Ixus, despite the development of a vaccine and subsequent recovery from the disease. Those who attempted to travel there via shuttle have disappeared. Amelia’s friend and neighbor, Lars, is incredibly intelligent and gifted in engineering. He believes that he has found a way to take a shuttle to Ixus and find out what happened there. Amelia has promised to keep Lars secret, but something goes wrong. Amelia soon finds herself stranded on Ixus, all alone, and in more danger than she knows.

Novels with futuristic floating cities are not terribly uncommon, but this one stands out. The writing style flows easily and moves the story along quickly. Amelia is a teenage girl who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. With several brothers, she emphasizes on multiple occasions how capable she is of taking care of herself. For such a strong young woman, however, Amelia is placed in the role of damsel in distress a bit too often. There could be more depth to her character as well, but this was a good first introduction. The supporting characters have nuanced histories and well-rounded personalities. The villains of the story are not as complex and don’t appear to have any redeeming traits; it is made quite clear who the bad guys are and their motivations are transparent.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Amelia is in need of rescuing on multiple occasions which is quite frustrating. It seems to be a common theme in many books, shows, and movies to build a woman up as strong and powerful and then break her down to be saved by someone else (usually a male). This book has good bones and is the first in a trilogy. Hopefully, we will see the characters grow and the author will allow Amelia to be the heroine that she should be. I look forward to the next book.

Content warning: attempted sexual assault, violence, gun violence

This is the debut novel from author S.G. Meine and was released in May 2017.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Agnes and the Hitman” by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Review- “Agnes and the Hitman” by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

A review by Vanessa.

Cranky Agnes is a cooking columnist with an anger problem. She just wants to feed everyone she meets, write her next cookbook, and throw the wedding of the century for her goddaughter. If the men in her life would stop pissing her off, she wouldn’t have an anger problem. There is only one man she trusts, the old mobster Uncle Joey, and it’s him she turns to when a deranged dognapper shows up in her kitchen. But Uncle Joey knows why this sudden string of crazies is showing up at Agnes’s recently purchased (in need of major rehab) beautiful Southern home. So he calls the only man he can trust with Agnes’s safety: his nephew Shane, the government employed hitman.

Shane is too busy with a hit gone wrong to abandon work and rush to protect some little girl his uncle knows; but since it is the first and only time Joey has asked for help in 25 years Shane decides to honor his request. Imagine his surprise when Agnes turns out to be a cranky, comely, take-no-prisoners lady who cooks like a dream and knows how to defend herself: with her best heavy non-stick frying pan of course. Shane can tell something more is up than what Uncle Joey is willing to admit, and he is not going to leave until he can make sure that Agnes makes it through and gets everything she has earned. With an upcoming mob-wedding looming on the horizon, a ticked off rogue hitman on the loose, and the previous homeowner causing all kinds of problems, Agnes and Shane will have to work together to make it through.

As a follow up to my last review, I decided to review the follow-up collaborative novel by the Crusie/Mayer team; and as expected they did not disappoint. The excellent combination of situational humor, action, and searing romance wins again. Cranky Agnes is a totally lovable lady with a relatable dark anger simmering under the surface that makes her both multidimensional and captivating to read. She is both caring and unforgiving, with an attitude that brooks no argument but somehow still manages to inspire loyalty and support from the good people who care for her. Shane is a sturdy, reliably dependable contrast to Agnes. He is a steady, straightforward, problem fixer, which is a contrast in itself considering that Shane is a hitman.

It’s interesting to consider that he ended up in a violent lifestyle, even though his mobster uncle Joey sent him to military school to keep him away from the violent life of a killer. As per usual, the two leads are accompanied by a fascinating and varied supporting cast of characters. The old world Southern mafia is an amazing setting for the backstory, juxtaposed with Agnes’s modern world of cooking. The two blend well and make for a driving story arc that will keep the reader turning pages. The love interest between Agnes and Shane is incendiary, exploding at just the right moment and in the best way possible. Love it!

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Killman Creek” (Stillhouse Lake #2) by Rachel Caine

Killman Creek (Stillhouse Lake #2) by Rachel Caine

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this ebook from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This review may contain spoilers for book one in the series, Stillhouse Lake.

Gwen Proctor, formerly Gina Royal, is on the run with her kids yet again. Her ex-husband, convicted serial killer Melvin Royal, has escaped from prison. He has help from Absalom, Gwen’s ally-turned-betrayer. Gwen has help this time as well, from someone she knows she can trust. Sam Cade, whose sister was Melvin’s final victim, is running with Gwen and the kids (fifteen-year-old Lanny and eleven-year-old Connor). Their partnership is beginning to blossom into something more, but at a glacially slow pace. Absalom continues to help Melvin track Gwen, calling to threaten and taunt her regularly, despite their vigilance with disposing of phones and staying off the grid. Eventually, Gwen decides that they need to go on the offensive and hunt Melvin before he finds them. She and Sam send the kids to stay with trustworthy friends, and the hunt is on.

Killman Creek is a creepy, thrilling page-turner that may need to be consumed in one sitting, if only to stave off nightmares. Told from various perspectives, readers get most of the story while certain characters are left in the dark. Even with that extra knowledge, the author manages to pull off surprising plot twists left and right. Gwen and Sam’s journey takes unexpected turns, including new information about Absalom and new doubts about Gwen/Gina’s innocence. Readers also get a peek into Lanny and Connor’s thoughts, which provides plenty of emotional depth.

This book will be released on December 12, 2017. I look forward to the rest of the series, especially if it keeps the intense pace of books one and two.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Final Girls” by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

A review by Amanda.

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter and five friends rented a cabin in the woods for a birthday party getaway. Quincy is the only one who survived after a deranged killer savagely murders her friends. Surviving made her a “Final Girl”, so called by the media, as a reference to the horror movie trope where the only person to make it to the end alive is the lone female character. Lisa, who barely lived through a massacre at her sorority house; and Sam, who survived a brutal attack at the motel where she worked, are also Final Girls, grouped together despite having never met in person. Quincy has done her best to move past that horrific event. She runs a successful baking website, has a solid relationship with a lawyer boyfriend, and maintains regular contact with the officer who saved her life. A Xanax prescription keeps her anxiety at bay, and her mind has protected her further by firmly repressing her memories of the attack. Everything that she has worked for is turned upside down when she gets the call— Lisa, her Final Girl mentor of sorts, has been found dead in her bathtub in an apparent suicide. Sam shows up out of the blue, the press starts harassing Quincy again, some of her memories start to return, and things are not lining up. Is someone coming after the Final Girls? What are Quincy’s memories hiding?

Final Girls is a rollercoaster of misdirection and plot twists. Readers will question everything and everyone by the time the explosive finale is revealed. Quincy is a ball of anxiety in denial. Her reactions after the massacre seem expected for someone who has experienced trauma; she absolutely has PTSD. Her relationship with her mother is strained and Quincy is encouraged to pretend like everything is fine. Shoving those feelings away instead of dealing with them in a healthier manner may work for a short time but eventually will backfire – which is exactly what happens, in surprising ways. The story is told in alternating perspectives, going from present day and first person from Quincy’s point of view, to flashbacks to the events leading up to the cabin massacre, told in third person omniscient. This adds to the suspense, especially as readers start to wonder if there is a connection to the present day. Readers will not want to put this spooky book down, particularly if they are reading at night. It does drag a bit in the middle, but the mystery keeps going and unraveling until the very end.

There is some sexual content, graphic violence, and strong language.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “The Trouble With Twelfth Grave (Charley Davidson #12)” by Darynda Jones

The Trouble With Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Charley is in a bit of trouble, yet again. Her handsome husband Reyes has re-discovered his godhood, thanks to the godglass – an almost inescapable hell dimension in which two dangerous beings and countless innocents have been trapped. When we last saw Charley and Reyes in Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (read our review here!), Reyes had just escaped from the hell dimension, after being accidentally trapped there by Charley. Whoops! Not only has Reyes forgotten a chunk of his life on Earth, he is supremely angry at his heavenly Brother and has gone feral, bent on destroying Jehovah’s treasured creation. A series of murders has Charley afraid that Reyes has crossed permanently over to the Dark Side. In between trying to track down her wayward husband, she must also secretly investigate the murders, help a friend out of a legal jam, and act as a consultant for Amber and Quentin with their amateur P.I. business. Thank goodness for her trusty assistant Cookie, and, of course, for coffee.

The latest installment in the Charley Davidson series does not disappoint. Charley is still clever, loyal, and quick with the witty comebacks. The stress and worry of the situation with Reyes is balanced by her never-ending optimism. She still makes time, no matter what, to help her loved ones, even when that means going without sleep. Charley continues to grow as a character, as she learns more about her origins and purpose. Readers will enjoy seeing more of their favorite supporting characters and learning new information about old standbys, much more than the last book.

Plotwise, parts of the story did seem to drag a little, but the excitement leading up to the cliffhanger ending definitely made up for it. The relationship between Charley and Reyes went in an entirely new direction, hopefully for the better. The author managed to skillfully sneak in some sexy scenes, as hot as ever, and nostalgically reminiscent of the first book. With only one more book left in the series after this one, it is absolutely worth pushing past the slower scenes.

This book will (fittingly) be released on October 31, 2017.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Bring Her Home” by David Bell

Review: "Bring Her Home" by David Bell

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tragedy has struck the small town of Jakesville. Fifteen-year-old Summer and her best friend Haley, who has been missing for two days, were found in a local park. Both girls had been severely beaten beyond recognition and only Summer is still clinging to life. Summer’s mother died a year and a half before and her father, Bill, has been struggling to raise his only child on his own. Relief that she has been found alive is mixed with anger at whoever has done this horrible crime, and guilt over mistakes he has made as a parent. The investigation into the girls’ disappearance has uncovered some surprising and troubling details about things that shake Bill to his core, and lead to more questions than answers.

Bill Price appears to be an average middle-aged man who has been thrown into some extraordinary and tragic circumstances. He is overcome with grief, shock, and occasional bouts of rage, and has some secrets of his own that he’d prefer to keep buried. His sister Paige is his only real confidante as he tries to find the truth about what happened to Summer on his own. The beleaguered lead detective, Detective Hawkins, has his work cut out for him with Bill’s attempts to find the person responsible alternately hindering and helping the investigation.

The story is told exclusively from Bill’s perspective, so readers only know what he knows as the investigation unfolds. Bill is not the most sympathetic of characters; at times he is downright unlikeable in spite of the circumstances. Readers will be drawn in through the mystery and the unexpected twists and supporting characters will keep them engaged. Getting to know Summer, Paige, and Bill’s late wife Julia, albeit through Bill’s eyes, gives the book depth and warmth and gives readers characters to connect with and root for. Aside from the unlikeability of the main character, the story is well written and intriguing. The unpredictable plot twists are a pleasant surprise amidst the oversaturated mystery genre. Violence and strong allusions to sexual assault are mentioned but not graphically described.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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