REVIEW: LOOK FOR ME, BY LISA GARDNER

 

The home of a family of five is now a crime scene: four of them savagely murdered, one—a sixteen-year-old girl—missing. Was she lucky to have escaped? Or is her absence evidence of something sinister? Detective D. D. Warren is on the case—but so is survivor-turned-avenger Flora Dane. Seeking different types of justice, they must make sense of the clues left behind by a young woman who, whether as victim or suspect, is silently pleading, Look for me.

My Thoughts: A multi-layered story, Look for Me takes the reader along on a journey to find a killer and a missing girl.

Our narrators are D. D. Warren, a detective with the Boston P.D., and Flora Dane, the famously abducted woman held captive for 472 days…and who now has taken on a vigilante role. But she also helps other young women to protect themselves and move on.

The three children in the Baez family spent time in foster care, during which they were abused by other teens in the home. By the time their mother got them back again, they were broken and damaged, but hoping for a better life. Nothing worked out the way they had planned, for they were thrust, once again, into the school where their enemies from care could keep torturing them.

Who had killed the four members of a family? Why did the oldest girl, Roxanna, run? Did she have anything to do with the killings? Or had she somehow escaped, but would become the next target? Did the time in foster care have something to do with the killings? Was someone worried about possible charges being brought against the abusers in the home?

I enjoyed trying to figure out who could have killed the family, and I liked how D. D.’s mind worked in trying to eliminate suspects and zero in on the perpetrator(s).

Flora, whose first person narrative brought the reader into her mind and her thoughts, was interesting and likable, except to D. D., who mostly wished she didn’t have to keep her in line while she “helped.”

Alternating with the other POVs was a journal kept by Roxanna, which helped the reader piece together her experiences while in foster care. And at the very heart of the story, was the unexpected perpetrator who seemed the least likely one. A riveting story that earned 5 stars for me.***

REVIEW: PRETTY BABY, BY MARY KUBICA

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Heidi and Chris Wood have a marriage that seems to work for them. Longevity, a twelve-year-old daughter Zoe, and a lovely condo near Chicago.

Yes, Chris travels too much, in his career as an investment banker, but for the most part, this works for Heidi, too, as she has her own career teaching literacy classes. She loves helping the underprivileged, and even before we see what happens next, we are ready. Ready for her to do the unthinkable.

So one day, when Heidi spots a young woman with a baby near the train station, looking cold…and possibly homeless, she is drawn to them. She begins seeing them over and over until the night that she decides to do something about it.

What Heidi does next seems completely out of the box, and seemingly without a second thought, she takes the plunge anyway. Does she realize that she could be threatening everything she has and all the people she knows? What dark moments in Heidi’s past have contributed to the empty space inside that is suddenly filled by the presence of Willow and baby Ruby, in her life and in her home?

Narrated alternately by Heidi, by Chris, and then by Willow, Pretty Baby is a mesmerizing tale that takes the reader to the dark side.

Especially in Willow’s narrative, when we learn much more about her past, what events informed her life, and what contributed to the train wreck her life has become. But is she a reliable narrator? Or could she be fictionalizing events for her own purposes?

The characters were completely believable, and I found myself connecting more to Heidi than I would have imagined I could. Chris was someone whose behavior annoyed me, even as I could understand how he would resent the intrusion of Willow and the baby. But his attraction to his colleague Cassidy, who traveled with him and other co-workers, made him seem like the kind of man who reacts when his needs are not immediately met.

Even though I rooted for Heidi, I also found her behavior frightening. What would she risk to help a stranger? Even when I knew about what had happened to her in the past, it was hard for me to conceive of some of her actions. And then, as more of the story unfolds, we see her descend into a morass from which she might never escape.

Zoe, the twelve-year-old, was an annoying pre-teen, and her behavior was so stereotypical, with the scowls, the eye rolls, and the belligerence, that I pretty much dismissed her. Who can relate to someone so cardboard-like?

Despite the frustrations I felt with the characters, I could not put this book down. Completely engaging, and even though I put the pieces together before the end, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen. 5 stars.

***An e-arc of this book was provided by the publishers via NetGalley.

REVIEW: ANA OF CALIFORNIA, BY ANDI TERAN

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For almost ten years, Ana Cortez had been at the mercy of the foster care system. In and out of homes, mostly in East LA, she is now at a crossroads. Next stop: a group home. Unless her social worker, Lupe Saucedo, can come up with a creative solution.

As she meets with Ms. Saucedo, Ana learns that, indeed, a new possibility is available to her. She can be placed in Northern California, in redwood country, where she can intern on a farm for the summer. And perhaps longer. The ultimate goal: emancipation.

From the first moments after her arrival in Hadley and to the home of Emmett Garber and his sister Abbie, Ana feels on trial. Every word, every glance, every misunderstanding…they all point to failure, even though she is trying hard. But nobody seems to give her a chance, especially Emmett Garber, who has his own issues and little understanding of Ana’s.

Abbie is impressed by Ana’s creativity, however, and the efforts she has made to do what is required. Small mistakes make it harder, but there are a few moments of connection developing between them.

Naturally, there is a boy, Cole Brannan, who is drawn to Ana, and she to him. But his parents have issues with the Garbers, making Cole a forbidden love. And the attraction between them evokes all of Abbie’s worst memories about her own past errors in judgment.

How do the past mistakes of all the characters play into the events of that summer and fall? Why are so many people unable to give Ana the benefit of the doubt? And, finally, what frightening event will change how everyone sees her? Will Ana finally achieve her dreams of belonging?

Throughout Ana of California, I felt myself rooting for Ana, wishing that I could somehow make others understand her and give her the chance she so sorely needs. She was an appealing character, and I could understand why she connected to the girl named Rye Moon. But I found Rye unlikeable.

Rye, with her somewhat Bohemian style, resonated with Ana. But she seemed to create situations that would evolve into trouble. Lashing out seemed to be Rye’s MO, and this behavior made it hard for this reader to connect to her.

Small town life might have appeared to be a good idea for Ana, but the smallness of the town contributed to many of the problems, too, with residents jumping to conclusions, reacting out of their own preconceptions about Ana and her life. Misunderstandings and miscommunication ran rampant. In the end, this mix added to my fascination with the story, and with my inability to put this book down. 4.5 stars.

**I received this e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY, BY WILEY CASH

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A heart-warming story of family, loss, and broken connections, This Dark Road to Mercy: A Novel held my attention to the very end.

Easter, aged 12, and Ruby, 6, are two girls who find themselves in foster care after their mother’s death. Their father, Wade Chesterfield, an ex-minor league baseball player, relinquished his parental rights years before. So when he shows up at a school softball game, and strikes up a conversation with Easter, he inadvertently sets up a domino effect that will lead him, the girls, and some nefarious people on a trail leading to potential disaster.

How does an armored car heist figure into the story? What will Brady Weller, the girls’ court-appointed guardian, do when he realizes that Wade has taken the girls in the middle of the night? How will all of those trailing them find themselves in St. Louis at a baseball game?

The story begins in Gastonia, North Carolina, and travels to Charleston, SC, before heading to St. Louis. Along the way, some broken connections will be healed. Not only is Wade in search of a second chance with his daughters, but Brady Weller is trying to redeem himself after some mistakes of his own.

Will there be second chances for these characters? Narrated in alternating voices by Easter, the oldest girl; by Brady Weller; and by a character named Pruitt, this was a truly unputdownable tale that will linger in my mind for a long time. Five stars.