REVIEW: SLEEP LIKE A BABY, BY CHARLAINE HARRIS

 

In Sleep Like a Baby, the latest installment of the #1 New York Times Bestselling Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series, Robin and Aurora have finally begun their adventure in parenting. With newborn Sophie proving to be quite a handful, Roe’s mother pays for a partially trained nurse, Virginia Mitchell, to come help the new parents for a few weeks. Virginia proves to be especially helpful when Robin has to leave town for work and Roe is struck with a bad case of the flu.

One particularly stormy night, Roe wakes to hear her daughter crying and Virginia nowhere to be found. Roe’s brother Philip helps her search the house and they happen upon a body outside… but it isn’t Virginia’s. Now, not only does she have a newborn to care for and a vulnerable new marriage to nurture, Roe also has to contend with a new puzzle — who is this mystery woman dead in their backyard, and what happened to Virginia? This heart-pounding and exciting next installment of the Aurora Teagarden series will leave fans happy and hungry for more.


My Thoughts: I was eager to read Sleep Like a Baby, because I’ve grown fond of the Aurora Teagarden character from the Hallmark series.

This story picks up sometime after the last TV mystery, as Aurora is married to Robin (instead of Martin) and has a new baby, Sophie.

On the stormy night when Virginia disappears and when a dead body (of their stalker) is found in the yard, events spin out from there into a series of dangerous moments involving shootings, break-ins, and puzzling encounters with the dog next door. Just after Aurora learns more about Virginia and her relationship with a man who has recently been jailed, we start to see the connections that led to the murder. I liked how “Ro” put the clues together into a believable scenario.

The moments between Aurora and her baby were delightful. It was easy to see how her life had changed, once she clicked into that protective mode of mothering. These moments bring the “cozy” into the mystery, which earned 4 stars for me.

 ***

REVIEW: THE SLEEPING BEAUTY KILLER, BY MARY HIGGINS CLARK/ALAFAIR BURKE

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Katherine Carter (Casey) has just spent fifteen years in prison for killing her fiancé, Hunter Raleigh, III, and even though she was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder, there is nothing that will take away the sting of being found guilty. For Casey has maintained her innocence all along.

Now that she is out of prison, Casey’s first goal is to find a way to be on Laurie Moran’s show, Under Suspicion. With the help of her cousin Angela, who has always felt like a sister, she arranges for an interview.

Laurie listens, looks at the files, and then pitches the story to her boss, Brett. But both he and the new host of the show, Ryan Nichols, don’t think much of the idea, since Casey was convicted. Their show is usually about cold cases…unsolved cases.

But Laurie finally persuades them both, and the search begins for people to interview, including alternative individuals who might have killed Hunter.

The Sleeping Beauty Killer was a fast-paced book with short chapters; the moniker of “sleeping beauty killer” was one the press had hung on Casey. She had claimed to be sleeping deeply that night, having been drugged, and could not have killed him. Rohypnol was found in her blood, but a bottle of the pills was found in her handbag. Therefore, she could have drugged herself. But why would she hang onto the bottle?

More questions arise throughout Laurie’s investigation, as she considers other possible killers, such as Hunter’s brother, Andrew; the CFO, Mark Templeton; James Raleigh’s assistant, Mary Jane Finder; an ex-boyfriend of Casey’s who had written a book after her conviction, calling her “crazy”; and any number of other possible individuals, as yet unknown. The media frenzy continues. Who is the informant that seems to be providing insider information to one malicious blogger determined to “try Casey” all over again? Could the same individual have been feeding the media frenzy during the trial as well? What is the meaning of that individual’s screen name, RIP_Hunter?

All through the book I began to feel a niggling doubt about one individual, possibly the least likely suspect, whom I will not name due to spoilers. I never trusted that person. So I was pleased when finally the pieces of the puzzle fell into place…and I was right! I love when that happens.

I couldn’t stop reading this book, and even though I figured out who killed Hunter, I still wanted to keep going to discover how the answers would come to the characters who needed to know. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: ALL DRESSED IN WHITE, BY MARY HIGGINS CLARK/ALAFAIR BURKE

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Laurie Moran is pondering several topics for her next TV special on Under Suspicion, when a bereaved mother, Sandra Pierce, pleads her case. Her daughter Amanda disappeared five years ago on the night before her wedding in Palm Beach, Florida, and she still doesn’t know whether she is dead or alive.

When Laurie makes the pitch to her boss, Brett Young, he is reluctant…but then he is caught up in the idea of the wonderful setting and wealthy participants, so he gives the go-ahead.

After finding all the relatives and friends who were at the resort and gaining their participation, Laurie and her co-producer Alex Buckley, start gathering their information.

All Dressed in White was an engaging page-turner with a plethora of suspects, all of whom could have killed or kidnapped Amanda. Jeff Hunter, the fiancé, could be one. Or Amanda’s best friend Meghan White, who married Jeff only eighteen months after her disappearance. Then there is her jealous sister Charlotte…

Or the creepy photography intern who seems to stalk those he wants to capture on film.

While there was no shortage of suspects, it was impossible for me to guess the identity of the perpetrator until the very end. And then it was almost too late. Short chapters and tense prose kept me rapidly reading, satisfied by the denoument, even as I wondered what Laurie’s next case would be…and whether or not she and Alex would find their own happy ending. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE GUEST ROOM, BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN

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Richard Chapman’s world looks great to the outsider. He is an investment banker, his wife Kristin is a teacher, and their nine-year-old daughter Melissa seems happy and well-adjusted. Living the good life in an upscale Long Island community, one could almost nod off at the normalcy of it all.

But one moment’s series of bad choices can upend everything about this life.

Against his better judgment, Richard agrees to host a bachelor party in his home for his younger brother Philip. An amoral, immature, and self-absorbed thirty-five-year old, Philip could almost be the anti-Richard. So why would Richard agree?

When everything turns wrong on the night of the party, Richard will have a lot of time to ponder this choice and wonder why, too. Disaster strikes, followed by murder, police, and horrific consequences for Richard, as well as for his marriage. But there is no going back.

I felt so sad for the girls, like Alexandra, one of the narrators. How victimized they were, and how trapped they felt. I also felt sorry for Richard, who made a bad choice that would irrevocably alter his life. I hated Philip, and one of his horrible friends, Spencer, who tried to take advantage of the situation for his own gain.

The Guest Room, narrated from multiple perspectives, including the viewpoint of one of the “strippers,” held my interest throughout. Themes of sex slavery, marital devastation, and unexpected consequences render this book a page turner and an unforgettable read. 5 stars.

***I received my copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: PRETTY GIRLS, BY KARIN SLAUGHTER

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When nineteen-year-old Julia Carroll went missing one night in March 1991, the Carroll family would be forever fractured by the loss. Sam, the father and a veterinarian, spent his remaining years writing in his journal and constantly trying to spur the detectives on in their quest. But the detectives seemed to have decided early on that Julia had simply walked away from her life. Meanwhile, Helen, the mother and a librarian, buried her troubles under alcohol, and soon she and Sam were divorced.

Now, years later, the youngest daughter, Claire, is married and living a posh life with her architect husband, Paul Scott, in suburban Atlanta.

Lydia Delgado, the older sister and single mother to teenaged Dee, is a recovering addict, but her relationship with Claire ended years before when Claire did not believe an allegation Lydia had made against Paul.

One dark night in an alley, Paul and Claire are walking back toward their car, but take a detour for some lovemaking. Paul loves taking risks.

Paul is murdered, and in the aftermath, Claire begins to uncover her husband’s dark secrets, some of which are so horrific that she doesn’t know what to believe. Multiple narrators tell the story, and interspersed between them are excerpts from Sam Carroll’s journals, a homage to his daughter Julia.

But finding the secrets opens up the door between Claire and Lydia…so they, together, try to find answers.

Who can they trust? Are the cops and FBI agents, as well as powerful politicians, also part of what Paul has been hiding? Will the secrets continue to unfold to reveal greater depths of evil until neither of them will live to tell about them?

Twists and turns kept me guessing, even as around every corner, more stunning revelations would come. The more I thought I knew about the intricacies of the plot, the more I was startled to find additional layers. What had really happened to Julia? Who was the mastermind behind the brutal slayings of pretty young girls? And why did it seem as though Paul was still pulling the strings?

Pretty Girls: A Novel was an intense plot-driven novel with graphic violence, its dark underbelly hidden behind the façade of wealth and privilege. Not a book for the faint of heart, but definitely a compelling and twisted mystery. 4.5 stars.

BOOK REVIEW: FRIDAY ON MY MIND, BY NICCI FRENCH

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It was a Friday in London, and the scene unfolds to police activity on the Thames River. A body, and it is clearly a murder, has been found; the victim’s throat has been sliced.

DCI Sarah Hussein and DC Glen Bryant are front and center, meeting up with DC O’Neill, and the action begins.

As with all previous books in this series, Friday on My Mind brings together detectives, the Police Commissioner, and some familiar characters from previous books, like Dr. Frieda Klein, a psychologist, someone known to the department for various reasons. She once served as a consultant to the police, but fell into disfavor with some of them, like the Commissioner and the current psychological consultant, Dr. Hal Bradshaw.

Also on hand: DCI Malcolm Karlsson, who has been an advocate of Frieda Klein’s through all of the bad times with the other detectives and the Commissioner. He believes in her when the others don’t.

The victim, in this case, was one Alexander (Sandy) Holland, and he was wearing an identification bracelet labeled “Frieda Klein.” This, of course, makes those who do not care for Frieda suspicious. Plus, he is her ex-lover. Then some personal items of his show up in Frieda’s dresser drawer…and suddenly she is a suspect.

Instead of turning herself in, as requested, Frieda, who likes doing things her own way, goes on the run. And during her weeks of hiding, she is trying to find the truth. It is fun to follow her in her activities, as it is clear that she is persistent in her efforts to find the killer; her methodical approach to seeking answers leads her down some interesting pathways, following clues that only she can find.

Will Frieda find the answers before the killer catches up with her? How does a former patient, Sasha, and her small child Ethan, figure into the mix? What events in their lives make them key to finding answers? As the danger closes in on Frieda, and as we weed through several red herrings, the unexpected truth stuns everyone, even Frieda herself. I didn’t see this one coming, either, and then, after the final reveal, a tidbit about an ongoing character whom everyone but Frieda believes is dead…makes an appearance. 5 stars.

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: BLACK-EYED SUSANS, BY JULIA HEABERLIN

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What would your life be like after a traumatic event, in which you were found in a field with the remains of other girls, covered in Black-Eyed Susans? Would you find it hard to remember what happened?

Tessie (Tessa) Cartwright is that one remaining survivor, and for a while afterwards, she has lost her vision, and not just her memory. But the vision returns, even though the memories are still missing.

The grown-up Tessa has a teenaged daughter, Charlie, aged fourteen, and she is determined to protect the life she has. But will the newest efforts by the attorneys allow her to do this? The convicted killer, Terrell Darcy Goodman, may not actually be the killer. Efforts abound to find evidence to free him. Tessa herself is beginning to wonder, since someone is planting Black-Eyed Susans beneath her window…and leaving strange notes.

Narrated in the POV of young Tessie, from 1995, and present day Tessa, the story carries us along, feeding us bits and pieces of moments that will surely keep us guessing.

Why has her best friend Lydia, from her teenaged years, gone missing? Has something happened to her? More and more red herrings crop up, making us wonder about everything we thought we knew. Toward the end, the story switches into Lydia’s POV, creating more doubt in the reader’s mind.

Set in Texas, with Tessa living in a bungalow in Fort Worth, we can see and feel the world around her as she struggles to move on, while trying to recapture the past. And all the while, what we believed about friends and trusted ones is lying in wait, ready to strike at just the right and convenient time. A riveting tale that I could not stop reading, “Black-Eyed Susans” earned five stars…and was unforgettable.

REVIEW: LITTLE BLACK LIES, BY SANDRA BLOCK

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After finishing medical school at Yale, along with her internship, Zoe Goldman has returned to her hometown of Buffalo for her psychiatry residency. But coming home has brought some baggage with it.

Years ago, Zoe lost her birth mother in a fire, and has some physical and emotional scarring from the traumatic episode. In addition, Zoe has ADHD and some issues with compulsivity. She struggles with these issues, along with how coming home has caused old feelings to resurface. And now the nightmares have begun again.

How will Zoe manage her patient load while dealing with her own issues? Why is her adoptive mother, now suffering from dementia, hiding things from her? Was everything she was told a lie, or has her mother “forgotten” the facts due to her memory issues?

Little Black Lies is a page-turner that I couldn’t put down. I loved the mix of Zoe’s personal life with the issues of her patients. Why has one particular patient, Sofia Vallano, who incidentally killed her own mother when she was fourteen, started showing up in Zoe’s nightmares? Can Zoe find the answers to her own nebulous past? Will she discover the truth behind the lies? And when, in one horrifying moment, she does learn it all, will she survive it?

Finding the answers can be life-changing. There are still too many unanswered questions, Zoe realizes, and what is the truth? What are the lies? I liked this summation Zoe made: “Maybe the truth is this: There is no truth.”

A great story for those who enjoy suspense, mixed in with family issues. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, BY LAURA LIPPMAN

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In 1976, two young girls, Sunny and Heather Bethany, went missing from Baltimore.

Now, thirty years later, a young woman with no identification, dubbed Jane Doe, has an auto accident that leads to a series of statements on her part, and a joint effort by police, a social worker, and an attorney to discern the truth in what she has to say.

Could she, as she claims, be Heather Bethany? If not, why does she know so many details of the events, as well as private information that only an “insider” could have?

What the Dead Know was narrated by various players in the story, from Miriam and Dave Bethany, the parents, to the present day investigators. We also read the narrative of the Jane Doe character, and try to ascertain her credibility.

Flashbacks convey much of the story through these narrators, and as the story unfolds, we are soon trying to decide if we believe Jane Doe’s statements, or if she has conned us.

I found the details about how the character achieved her numerous identities to be fascinating, and much in line with what we know about how such new identities are obtained. I liked this quote: “Like a bird who moved into abandoned nests, she had inhabited the lives of long-dead girls…”

In the final twist, which I did not see coming, the facts and details came together to give us a most satisfying conclusion. While not my favorite book by this author, I still will not forget it, and enjoyed the numerous ins and outs and twists and turns. 4 stars.