Tag: thriller

September 29, 2016

Review | Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb

Review | Apprentice in Death by J.D. RobbApprentice in Death by J.D. Robb
Series: In Death, #43
Publisher: Berkley, September 2016
Pages: 375
Format: Hardcover
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The shots came quickly, silently, and with deadly accuracy. Within seconds, three people were dead at Central Park’s ice skating rink. The victims: a talented young skater, a doctor, and a teacher. As random as random can be.
Eve Dallas has seen a lot of killers during her time with the NYPSD, but never one like this. After reviewing security videos, it becomes clear that the victims were killed by a sniper firing a tactical laser rifle, who could have been miles away when the trigger was pulled. And though the locations where the shooter could have set up seem endless, the list of people with that particular skill set is finite: police, military, professional killer.
Eve’s husband, Roarke, has unlimited resources—and genius—at his disposal. And when his computer program leads Eve to the location of the sniper, she learns a shocking fact: There were two—one older, one younger. Someone is being trained by an expert in the science of killing, and they have an agenda. Central Park was just a warm-up. And as another sniper attack shakes the city to its core, Eve realizes that though we’re all shaped by the people around us, there are those who are just born evil...

Master and apprentice in death. It’s a new take for Lieutenant Eve Dallas, Homicide. She faced down lovers, loners, psychopaths and worse. But when a long distance serial killer (think sniper) starts killing in New York City, Eve has a feeling she may be out of her depth.

I couldn’t get into this book at first. After waiting (im)patiently for the latest book in the In Death series, I expected a grand opening scene. The initial murder scene at the ice skating rink didn’t catch me at first. The connection, the viciousness that I’d come to expect from Robb’s villains didn’t stand out. Instead, it was cold, impersonal, and almost clinical.

As Apprentice in Death began to play out, the implications began to sink in. I realized that these villains, the master and apprentice, were unlike anything Eve has faced before. I was hooked into the massive manhunt for the serial killers for one reason: the psychological profiles.

The depth and variation in both the master and apprentice’s mindsets, motives, and rationale were intense, emotional, and entirely engaging. In other words, I loved it. The dueling narration of Eve’s hunt and the snipers’ thought processes fascinated me, pulling me deeper into the story than I ever imagined.

Most of Robb’s installments are what I would consider thrilling, but the gritty nature of this manhunt made it downright heart-stopping. Although it took a while for it to get started, Apprentice in Death lives up to Robb’s standards.

As thrilling as the new characters were, it was the returning cast that made me fall in love with this book. The dynamics between Peabody and Eve in Interview always add a thrill, and Roarke…well, Roarke is an entity unto himself. Their perfectly imperfect marriage is one of my favorite relationships in literature today.

I don’t know why I doubt it; Robb’s In Death series has won me over time and time again. Apprentice in Death was no different.

4 Stars

Posted September 29, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 15, 2016

Review | Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy

Review | Red Storm Rising by Tom ClancyRed Storm Rising by Tom Clancy
Publisher: Berkley, August 1987
Pages: 725
Format: Paperback
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Tom Clancy, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Ryan novels--including his latest blockbusters Command Authority and Threat Vector--delivers an electrifying tale of international conflict.
Using the latest advancements in military technology, the world's superpowers battle it out on land, sea, and air for the ultimate global control.
A chillingly authentic vision of modern war, Red Storm Rising is as powerful as it is ambitious.
It's a story you will never forget.
Hard hitting. Suspenseful.
And frighteningly real.

Clancy pitches superpower versus superpower in air, sea and land in this alternate history telling of the war between NATO and Russia. As the story progresses, the lives of many hang in the balance. Through it all, the question remains: Will they survive the storm?

What would happen if the Cold War had broken out into World War III? That’s the question Clancy asks in Red Storm Rising. In his fictional ending of the Cold War, Clancy breaks out the big guns…literally. After Russia attacks the strategic island nation of Iceland, NATO pulls out all the stops to prevent, then contain the war. The dramatic descriptions of battle on ship, submarine, tank and plane kept me hooked. The ability to keep the reader engaged while switching between nations and narratives was key to Red Storm Rising.

Now, I have to say that there are stereotypes in this book. Lots of them. Pretty much everywhere. My theory is Clancy used these stereotypes to keep the focus on the action, not the characters (a strong departure from the books I’m used to). Normally, I’d hate this. In Red Storm Rising, it worked. Simply, the action was the enough to (more than) sustain the story – adding in deep character development would have been overkill.

There was some minor character development, especially for the pack of NATO soldiers stranded in Iceland. Their part of the story was the hardest to read. I kept myself at the edge of my seat constantly, hoping everything would turn out all right.

If you’re a military buff, Cold War fanatic, or can’t get enough of Clancy’s work, Red Storm Rising is definitely for you. I’d even recommend it to suspense/thriller fans, even if military history isn’t your thing. This is a world that can grab you in and never let go.

4 Stars

Posted September 15, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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August 4, 2016

Review | L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton

Review | L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton"L" is for Lawless by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #12
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, November 2009
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
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When Kinsey Millhone's landlord asks her to help deceased World War II vet Johnnie Lee's family find out why the military has no record of his service, she thinks it'll be a cinch. But she is about to meet her match in world-class prevaricators who take her for the ride of her life.
When Lee's apartment in burgled and a man named Ray Rawson, who claims to be an old friend of Lee's, is beaten up, Kinsey soon finds herself on the trail of a pregnant woman with a duffel bag. Soon the intrepid P.I. is following leads halfway across the country and encountering another man from Lee's past—a vengeful psychopath.
Stalked by a new enemy and increasingly suspicious of Rawson—not to mention running out of time and money—now Kinsey must steer a collision course to solve a decades-old mystery that some would like better left unsolved.…

When Kinsey agrees to do a small favor for her landlord, Henry, she thinks it’ll be a small investigation. Well, not even an investigation – more of a research project. When a simple search for a deceased’s military ID turns into a story of cops and robbers, a missing stash of cash and jewels, and a lawless man’s hidden history, Kinsey may finally be in over her head.

Logically, I didn’t expect all of the Kinsey Millhone books to be murder mysteries, but I will admit missing the hunt and drama that accompanies Kinsey’s search for a killer. Instead, L is for Lawless tells the tale of how a seemingly simple quest to give a veteran a military burial turns out to be one of the oddest mysteries Kinsey’s ever unraveled.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this installment. I appreciated Grafton’s effort to shake it up, but Kinsey’s trek halfway across the country to unravel the truth about the veteran who wasn’t a veteran didn’t do it for me.

Kinsey herself felt disjointed, misplaced. From Dallas onward, it just didn’t feel like Kinsey. The odd situation and race against time didn’t showcase her character – instead, the landscape and weird family dynamics of the minor characters took over Lawless. Consequently, the rest of the story began to fall flat, and I found my mind wandering more often than not.

I would have loved more about Rosie and William’s wedding – the little glimpses Grafton shares were downright hilarious. As two well-loved recurring minor characters, I felt they deserved more of the story’s time.

Maybe L is for Lawless wasn’t a winner for me, but I’ll keep plugging away at the Kinsey’s stories. After loving the first 11 of them, maybe #12 was just a hiccup.

Posted August 4, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 1 Comment
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June 18, 2016

Review | A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachmann

Review | A Drop of Night by Stefan BachmannA Drop of Night by Stefan Bachmann
Publisher: Greenwillow Books, March 2016
Pages: 464
Format: Hardcover
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Seventeen-year-old Anouk has finally caught the break she’s been looking for—she's been selected out of hundreds of other candidates to fly to France and help with the excavation of a vast, underground palace buried a hundred feet below the suburbs of Paris. Built in the 1780's to hide an aristocratic family and a mad duke during the French Revolution, the palace has lain hidden and forgotten ever since. Anouk, along with several other gifted teenagers, will be the first to set foot in it in over two centuries.
Or so she thought.
But nothing is as it seems, and the teens soon find themselves embroiled in a game far more sinister, and dangerous, than they could possibly have imagined. An evil spanning centuries is waiting for them in the depths. . .
A genre-bending thriller from Stefan Bachmann for fans of The Maze Runner and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods.
You cannot escape the palace.
You cannot guess its secrets.

Anouk is on the adventure of a lifetime. After receiving a mysterious letter in the mail and completing the vast amounts of training, she’s finally on her way to help with one of history’s most astounding discoveries yet: a forgotten palace from the French Revolution. But there’s more hidden in this historical site than meets the eye, a horror laying in wait for centuries.

I had one major problem with A Drop of Night that I just couldn’t get over, as much as I tried.

I hated Anouk.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you might notice that I rarely say I hate a character. Usually, I can find something in them, some redeeming quality. With her…no.

From the opening pages of A Drop of Night, she was bratty (scribbling her goodbye note on her parents’ fridge), childish (inner monologue is all about how jealous she is of her sister), plain bitchy (who doesn’t tell their parents they’re running off to France?), arrogant (inner monologue also details how almighty smart she is. Right.), and just rude (to the driver, the other students on the plane). How on earth am I supposed to identify with this girl?

To be honest, I didn’t. I couldn’t get over the opening introduction to her character, which seemed to deteriorate as A Drop of Night continued. Consequently, the entire premise of the story fell flat and I found myself yearning for it to be over.

The one redeeming quality that raised this from a one star to two? I loved Bachmann’s flashbacks to the French Revolution. His writing came to life in these scenes. I saw the light from the torches, heard the madness of the mob, and felt my heart race with the family as they struggled for safety.

More French Revolution, less (or no) Anouk? A winner for me. A Drop of Night? Not my cup of tea.

2 Stars

Posted June 18, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 1 Comment
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April 18, 2016

Review | After the Woods by Kim Savage

Review | After the Woods by Kim SavageAfter the Woods by Kim Savage
, February 2016
Pages: 305
Format: Hardcover
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Would you risk your life to save your best friend?

Julia did. When a paroled predator attacked Liv in the woods, Julia fought back and got caught. Liv ran, leaving Julia in the woods for a terrifying 48 hours that she remembers only in flashbacks. One year later, Liv seems bent on self-destruction, starving herself, doing drugs, and hooking up with a violent new boyfriend. A dead girl turns up in those same woods, and Julia’s memories resurface alongside clues unearthed by an ambitious reporter that link the girl to Julia’s abductor. As the devastating truth becomes clear, Julia realizes that after the woods was just the beginning.

Julia doesn’t know how to live her life after the woods.

She doesn’t want the attention, the weird looks, the flashbacks, or the nightmares. She doesn’t want to be afraid of trees or go to the therapist who wants her to act out what happened with dolls.

When her best friend was attacked as they ran through the forest late one afternoon, Julia acted instinctively, throwing herself in harm’s way so Liv could escape. Now, nearing a year later, the demons are back to haunt her. Yet something is off…but Julia can’t quite put her finger on what. Curious by nature, she takes it into her own hands to unravel the mystery.

As a girl who loves to run, this book scared the daylights out of me. The fear of being attacked while I’m out for a run is something that keeps me on my toes (great article on how to stay safe running alone here), but as I read, I realized After the Woods isn’t a story about what happened in the woods. It’s a story about growing up, growing out of friendships, and realizing others’ demons.

Some people respond to traumatic events by crawling inside themselves and refusing to talk about it. Julia deals with her abduction in a variation of this, but instead of closing herself off from it, she becomes borderline obsessed with getting to the bottom of her abductor’s motives. When Ana, another girl out jogging in the woods, turns up dead, Julia’s first instinct is to investigate.

I loved Julia’s narrative: she’s rightfully wary, slightly defensive, and sarcastic by nature, portraying the events and people around her with an arm’s length and a careful view. The few people she does decide to let close to her, including the local TV news anchor and Kellan, the cute boy whose dad was the head detective on her case, are the few she shares with, but she keeps her biggest suspicion close to her chest.

The writing was clever: Julia’s slow upacking of her memories of the woods brought flashbacks and conversations with Liv to help complete the picture. The anniversary of her attack forces Julia to revisit her memories and look at those around her in an entirely new way. It’s at this moment that she realizes the woods has changed her.

While the writing was beautiful and the plot done well, I felt like I was missing things, especially how View Spoiler ». I’m sure this connection was made, but even after going back in the pages to find the answer, I was still at a loss. This is the only drawback to Savage’s otherwise fantastic debut.

4 Stars

Posted April 18, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 1 Comment
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October 29, 2015

Review | Devoted in Death by J.D. Robb

Review | Devoted in Death by J.D. RobbDevoted in Death by J.D. Robb
Series: In Death, #41
Publisher: Berkley, September 2015
Pages: 374
Format: Hardcover
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Eve Dallas tracks a couple whose passion is fueled by cold brutality in the newest crime thriller from the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of Obsession in Death and Festive in Death.
When Lieutenant Eve Dallas examines a body in a downtown Manhattan alleyway, the victim’s injuries are so extensive that she almost misses the clue. Carved into the skin is the shape of a heart—and initials inside reading E and D . . .
Ella-Loo and her boyfriend, Darryl, had been separated while Darryl was a guest of the state of Oklahoma, and now that his sentence has been served they don’t ever intend to part again. Ella-Loo’s got dreams. And Darryl believes there are better ways to achieve your dreams than working for them. So they hit the road, and when their car breaks down in Arkansas, they make plans to take someone else’s. Then things get messy and they wind up killing someone—an experience that stokes a fierce, wild desire in Ella-Loo. A desire for Darryl. And a desire to kill again.
As they cross state lines on their way to New York to find the life they think they deserve, they will leave a trail of evil behind them. But now they’ve landed in the jurisdiction of Lieutenant Dallas and her team at the New York Police and Security Department. And with her husband, Roarke, at her side, she has every intention of hunting them down and giving them what they truly deserve . . .

Romantic love is always portrayed in books and fairy tales as such a beautiful thing. We’re taught for a young age to find our soul mate and live happily every after. Devoted in Death is the story of two such soul mates that find joy in murder. 

Such an unnerving thought. Romance is meant to be one of the highlights of our lives: reading this couple’s path of destruction through futuristic New York is one of the more gruesome books I’ve read in the In Death series. 

Luckily, Robb sticks to her general narrative style – brief, somewhat hard-to-read descriptions of the crimes, interspersed with a quick, banter-style dialogue and the right hints of humor to pull the book from the depths of the two killers.   

I loved the pace: from the introduction, the backstory, and all the way through to present, there was this desperate urge to know what would happen, how it would happen, when it would happen. The story of Darryl and Ella-Loo takes over the narration, so the series’ side plots don’t move forward much, but I’m okay with that. The story was THAT GOOD.

5 Stars

Posted October 29, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 9, 2015

Review | The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Review | The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Books, January 2015
Pages: 325
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A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

Rachel takes the same train every day, going in and out of London. Her own life falling apart, she takes to watching the homes on the side of the tracks and creates stories about the people who live there. Her favorites, a couple she’s dubbed Jess and Jason, have what seems the perfect life…well, until she spots something she wasn’t meant to see.

I’m not sure where I got the idea that The Girl on the Train is a knockoff of Gone Girl, but wherever it was, it was wrong. The Girl on the Train is a different entity of its own. Instead of falling directly into the psychological thriller genre, The Girl pulls in elements of romance (and romance gone wrong) and the heroic journey in with the mystery of the missing wife, Megan.

I began to wonder about Rachel’s credibility as a narrator. She was honest and meant well, but her dependence on alcohol made her choices and memory poor. Instead of admitting the truth to her roommate, she pretends everything is fine. Instead of leaving her ex and his new family alone, she can’t help but call when she’s blackout drunk. Rachel’s the girl that breaks your heart, but keeps doing the same thing over and over until it feels like there’s no help for her.

The fascinating thing about Hawkins’ work is that none of the characters, short of Scott/”Jason,” are what they seem. Rachel’s character is the most transparent, but even she can’t explain what she doesn’t remember. 

Without providing too many spoilers, I loved the depth of the female characters. Even Detective Riley, the skeptical subordinate officer assigned to Megan’s missing person file, had a few more layers to her than I expected for a secondary character. Anna, Rachel’s ex’s new wife, was the stability. She did and said as was expected, for one reason: her child. 

It took me a while to get hooked on The Girl, but once I did, there was no going back. M patiently listened to me rave on about this character and that motive when all he really wanted to do was watch baseball. I knew it, but I couldn’t help it. Hawkins’ story was so powerful, so enthralling that I had to know what happened. 

A powerful, beautifully-written story and one that will be a staple on my reread shelf. 

5 Stars

Posted October 9, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 31, 2015

Review | The Hunt for the Red October by Tom Clancy

Title: The Hunt for the Red October
Author: Tom Clancy
Publication Date: 1984
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Series: Jack Ryan {Book #3}
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Here is the runaway bestseller that launched Tom Clancy’s phenomenal career. A military thriller so gripping in its action and so convincing in its accuracy that the author was rumored to have been debriefed by the White House. Its theme: the greatest espionage coup in history. Its story: the chase for a top secret Russian missile sub. Lauded by the Washington Post as “breathlessly exciting,” The Hunt for Red October remains a masterpiece of military fiction by one of the world’s most popular authors, a man whose shockingly realistic scenarios continue to hold us in thrall. Somewhere under the Atlantic, a Soviet sub commander has just made a fateful decision. The Red October is heading west. The Americans want her. The Russians want her back. And the most incredible chase in history is on.

This book has always had personal significance for me: it’s the book my dad was reading when I was born. How much of it he actually read that night, I’m not sure. Every year around my birthday, I glance at the stark red cover in my parents’ bookshelves and think I should really read that. This year I did. 

The depictions of life in 1980s Soviet Union were extraordinary. Many different personalities were created in accordance to birth, rank, and position, yet many remained uninfluenced under it all, despite the facade they presented. The variance of personalities among just the crew of the Red October would have been enough to create a series of fascinating stories. Mixing those with the roles of Americans, British, and the Soviet naval administration created an unforgettable cast of characters. 

Ramius kept me intrigued: for such a man, born and bred to be a true Russian, constantly referred to as the son of an important man, to feel such a disconnect to his country and beliefs that he made this decision blew me away. I was driven to find out his story: what had happened to push him to such an edge? There’s no denying his cleverness – making such a decision takes a mixture bravery, cleverness, and a hint of damn-it-all. 

I didn’t find Jack as charismatic as I expected: he was a little too self-effacing and it didn’t quite fit into the role of the academic-thrust-into-adventure. Instead of adapting, I felt like he was constantly pulling back and retreating. He did win me over in the last part of the book, but I still feel a bit ambivalent about him. 

Jonesy, the sonarman for the Dallas, was by far my favorite character. His slightly eccentric personality made me laugh and broke the tension of this incredibly fast-paced book. He can come over for a beer anytime. 

“Looking under the surface” earned a new meaning. Sure, looking for submarines, but the theme goes far beyond that. For Jack Ryan to come to his conclusion, he had to look under the immediate assumption and draw new – unusual – conclusions. The White House had to trust, the men aboard the ships at sea had to trust things they wouldn’t believe otherwise…Clancy pulls together an admirable story forcing not only the characters, but the reader to look beyond the obvious.

Settings and plot were so interwoven that you couldn’t have one without the other. Jack’s nerves as he approaches the White House to deliver a briefing, the extraordinary tension that fills the submarines and ships tracking the Red October. For me, the combination of plot and setting created the thrilling adventure that I just couldn’t put down. 

Posted July 31, 2015 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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November 22, 2014

Review | Airport by Arthur Hailey

Title: Airport
Author: Arthur Hailey
Publication Date: 1968
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

When a terrifying crisis erupts–stranding a snowbound airport in a blizzard of pressure, passion and peril–the key to life and death rests in the hands of one of four people: a tough troubleshooter, an arrogant pilot, a beautiful stewardess, or a brilliant airport manager. 

Airport was one of my favorites books this month, maybe even this year. It had suspense, thrill, and complex characters that created a deep, fascinating story that drew me in. 

The value of human life has a strong focus in this story – from the captain’s romance to the airline’s passengers to the side plot of Meadowood, Hailey focuses on the importance of life itself. As I read today, I found myself wishing I had read this book while I was in college; Captain Demerest’s perspective on life is just ripe for critical analysis!

Each character offered a perspective on life, ranging from abortion to the elderly, that makes not only the story come alive, but their own personalities. I loved the depth and variation of personalities, their strengths and secrets, that hid in Airport. Mel Bakersfield, the airport manager, alone struggles with issues in every element of his life. His brother Keith, an air traffic controller, is dealing with a past tragedy in his life. There was no shallow character, none left intentionally one-dimensional. 

As much as I enjoyed the narration, there was an element of propaganda in the novel. Hailey’s own background as a pilot shines through in his story – there are moments when he steps completely outside of the novel to give the reader a lesson on aviation, the struggle of pilots, or how planes work. While these were (for the most part) really interesting, I wish they had been incorporated into the story instead of an aside. 

Airport is perfect for aviation fans, suspense lovers, and those who like deep, intense characters and situations. I adored reading this book – this was one of my quickest reads this month!

Posted November 22, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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November 11, 2014

Review | Festive in Death by J.D. Robb

Title: Festive in Death
Author: J.D. Robb
Publication Date: September 2014
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Series: In Death {Book 39}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Personal trainer Trey Ziegler was in peak physical condition. If you didn’t count the kitchen knife in his well-toned chest.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas soon discovers a lineup of women who’d been loved and left by the narcissistic gym rat. While Dallas sorts through the list of Ziegler’s enemies, she’s also dealing with her Christmas shopping list—plus the guest list for her and her billionaire husband’s upcoming holiday bash.

Feeling less than festive, Dallas tries to put aside her distaste for the victim and solve the mystery of his death. There are just a few investigating days left before Christmas, and as New Year’s 2061 approaches, this homicide cop is resolved to stop a cold-blooded killer.

I become ridiculously excited when a new In Death book appears at the bookstores. You all know how much I love this series, but Festive in Death blew me out of the water.

Festive in Death brings out the best parts of Eve and Roarke. Eve’s character shines in this novel: she is sarcastic, a little mushy at certain points of the novel, and absolutely determined to find her killer. The victim himself strikes a particular chord in Eve, forcing her to rise above her past in order to stand for the dead like she always does. 

That being said, the past few novels have really delved into Eve’s history, and I enjoyed that Festive in Death breaks away from that mold. Eve’s story is fascinating and has truly built her character, but I liked the change. 

The mystery itself was fantastic. I read this book while cooking, while eating dinner…I tried to read while washing the dishes, but that didn’t work out so well. My point? I loved this plot. The victim’s harsh, selfish personality set against the nature of the crime intrigued me, but as his story evolved and came to light, it became downright irresistible. Trey’s dark, manipulative nature hurt almost everyone he came into contact with and I wanted to get inside his mind. I wanted to know what made him tick, to do what he did. The plot crescendos and twists that emerged as the story went on made the elements so engaging. I mean, who on earth saw that coming?

Posted November 11, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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