Book Review: All Your Twisted Secrets

All Your Twisted Secrets – Diana Urban – HarperTeen – Published 17 March 2020

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Synopsis

Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

My thoughts

Well, that’s how you start a book. Talk about getting hooked. All Your Twisted Secrets, as the title implies, is a thrilling book told in now and then sections about the secrets six teens will reveal when faced with a life-threatening situation. This book is compelling, addictive and shocking – I know teen readers will soak this up.

When six teens are invited to a prestigious dinner as scholarship recipients, they are shocked to discover they are locked in the room with a bomb, a syringe filled with deadly poison and a choice – kill one person or all be killed. Amber knows there must be another way to get everyone to safety, if she could just get the others to stop fighting. But as the clock ticks down, the six must face the events of the past year, and reveal the secrets they have kept hidden.

This book is thrilling from beginning to end. The short countdown chapters are perfectly spaced between the longer flashback sections. I won’t say too much about the characters or plot because the book is so brilliantly done I don’t remember what I didn’t know at the start and what I learnt as each fragment and detail is revealed throughout the book. I desperately wanted to flip to the back of the book to see how it would end and I’m so glad I didn’t. The build up and reveals are worth it. Stay away from spoilers if you can and enjoy the journey Diana Urban has masterfully created. With some important messages about friendship, bullying and social justice, this book has heart as well as guts.

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Book Review: End Game

End Game – Rachel Dylan – Capital Intrigue #1 – Bethany House Publishers – Published 7 January 2020

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Synopsis

When elite members of the military are murdered on the streets of Washington, DC, FBI Special Agent Bailey Ryan and NCIS Special Agent Marco Agostini must work together to bring the perpetrator to justice. Unfortunately, all evidence points to a Navy SEAL sniper whom Bailey refuses to believe is guilty.

When Bailey and Marco start to connect the dots between the victims, including a link to a powerful defense contractor, they wonder if there’s a deeper cover-up at play. Then Bailey is targeted, and it becomes clear that someone is willing to kill to keep their dark secrets.

With the stakes getting higher by the moment in a twisted conspiracy, there’s a rush against the clock to determine whom they can really trust. As allies turn to enemies, the biggest secret yet to be uncovered could be the end of all of them.

My thoughts

End Game reads like my favourite crime-fighting tv show. The focus is entirely on the investigation of a series of murders. Teamwork between agencies, searching through paperwork, interviews and interrogations, going where the evidence leads, it all works together to form a really interesting detective mystery with just a bit of suspense and life-threatening action. Quick dialogue and a great rapport between the large cast of characters involved in solving the crimes makes End Game a captivating book to read.

I really loved the focus on the investigation and the detective work the team do. While there are moments of suspense and the characters’ own lives are at stake, the action and thrills are not the focus of the story. I thought this was a much more realistic portrayal of criminal investigation work. It also made for very interesting reading as the legal ramifications of the case are considered, the team have to wait for evidence to be found, and they have to really work hard for the leads they discover.

FBI Special Agent Bailey Ryan and NCIS Special Agent Marco Agostini are our main characters. They have been asked to work together to solve two murders that may be linked together – the deaths of a construction worker and a Navy SEAL. When more bodies turn up and it looks more like a larger conspiracy cover-up, the two, with the help of their team, will have to outrun the target on their backs to find the people responsible.

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Book Review: The Finder

The Finder – Kate Hendrick – Text Publishing – Published 1 August 2018

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Synopsis

When Lindsay meets Elias the signs aren’t promising. She’s a grungy introvert who doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He’s a teen fashionista who can’t shut the hell up.

But since Lindsay tracked down a runaway kid, word’s got around that she knows how to find people. And Elias is looking for his birth mother. And he has money, and Lindsay’s perpetually broke… So that’s how this oddest of odd couples teams up.

But the thing is, Lindsay wasn’t actually trying to find the runaway. It’s just how she looks at the world. Not idly, like most people, but really looking. Scanning every house, every face, every car. That’s because someone is missing in Lindsay’s life: her identical twin Frankie, who disappeared when they were eight. Since then, her parents have kept themselves busy. And angry. And Lindsay has been…looking.

My thoughts

The Finder is a light mystery with plenty of heart. I recently read and loved Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card, so I was delighted when I discovered The Finder has a similar tone, with a very Aussie setting. Family, friendship and mystery combine in this book to provide a remarkably uplifting story about loss and the people left behind.

Lindsay has spent her life looking. It’s how she survived since her twin sister went missing when they were kids. Now with a family full of younger siblings, a busy mother and an absent father, Lindsay craves silence. She’s not surprised when she accidentally finds teen runaway, but she is surprised when it brings teen fashionista, Elias to her door asking for her help in locating his birth mother. She agrees, just as an excuse to get out of her crowded house. But even though Elias drives her crazy with his overly styled hair and non-stop chatter, Lindsay finds it comforting to finally have someone to look with.

The Finder brings such a delightful mix of humour and light-hearted joy combined with sorrow and grief. The themes touched upon in the story are quite deep. Lindsay’s discovery of Vogue and being asked to join in Elias’ search bring to the forefront the continued grief and guilt she carries from her twin sister’s disappearance. The trauma tore her family apart. Now her mother is busy with all Lindsay’s new siblings, her father is constantly at work and angry in those rare times he is home and Lindsay is forbidden from even mentioning her sister. This grief has been bottled up and Lindsay is ready to explode. The book captures the raw emotions Lindsay and her family are experiencing. There is also some mystery surrounding what transpired in Lindsay’s sister’s disappearance.

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Book Review: Deadly Little Scandals

Deadly Little Scandals – Jennifer Lynn Barnes – Debutantes #2 – Freeform – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Reluctant debutante Sawyer Taft joined Southern high society for one reason and one reason alone: to identify and locate her biological father. But the answers Sawyer found during her debutante year only left her with more questions and one potentially life-ruining secret. When her cousin Lily ropes her into pledging a mysterious, elite, and all-female secret society called the White Gloves, Sawyer soon discovers that someone in the group’s ranks may have the answers she’s looking for. Things are looking up… until Sawyer and the White Gloves make a disturbing discover near the family’s summer home–and uncover a twisted secret, decades in the making.

No one is quite who they seem to be.

My thoughts

Deadly Little Scandals is the sequel to Little White Lies, and, if possible it is even better than its predecessor. More intrigue, more plots, bodies to uncover, secrets to tell, and twist after twist that you never see coming, because, seriously who else but Jennifer Lynn Barnes could conceive of such an idea and actually make it work. Deadly Little Scandals will thrill fans of the first book and keep readers on the edge of their seat.

When Sawyer accepted her grandmother’s terms last summer, she did so to discover who her father is. Now, after a lengthy process of uncovering long-buried secrets and a little blackmail, she knows but would rather maybe not know. Keeping her secrets from her cousin Lily is hard, harder still to know if it is worth digging further to find answers to the questions she has. When an all girl secret society recruit Sawyer, Lily, Sadie-Grace and Campbell to compete for a position, Sawyer discovers that one of the girls may be key to helping her discover the secrets surrounding what happened the year her mother fell pregnant.

Deadly Little Scandals is a sequel and you must read the books in chronological order to make any sense of the story. Even having read the first book, it is a little hard to keep all the characters straight and by the end of the book I needed a map to fully make sense of it all. That’s just testament to Barnes’ skill as a writer to make such a complex plot work.

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Book Review: Smoke Screen

Smoke Screen – Terri Blackstock – Thomas Nelson – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Nate Beckett has spent his life fighting wildfires instead of the lies and rumors that drove him from his Colorado hometown. His mother begs him to come back now that his father has been released from prison, but it isn’t until he’s sidelined by an injury that he’s forced to return and face his past. But that means facing Brenna too.

Fourteen years ago, Nate was in love with the preacher’s daughter. When Pastor Strickland discovered Brenna defied him to sneak out with Nate, the fight between Strickland and Nate’s drunken dad was loud—and very public. Strickland was found murdered later that night, and everyone accused Roy Beckett. When the church burned down not long after, people assumed Nate set the fire to get even for his father’s conviction. He let the rumors fly and left town without looking back.

Brenna is stunned to learn that the man convicted of murdering her father has been pardoned. The events of that night set her life on a bad course, and now she’s fighting a brutal custody battle with her ex and his new wife where he’s using lies and his family’s money to sway the judge. Brenna is barely hanging on, and she’s turned to alcohol to cope. Shame and fear consume her.

As Nate and Brenna deal with the present—including new information about that fateful night and a wildfire that’s threatening their town—the past keeps igniting. Nate is the steady force Brenna has so desperately needed. But she’ll have to learn to trust him again first.

My thoughts

Smoke Screen is a story about family, love, wrongs dealt unjustly, reputations and the havoc of a messy divorce and custody battle.

Brenna is a mess after her husband left her for a much younger woman and is now fighting for custody of their two young children. Brenna has turned to alcohol to cope and the news that the man responsible for murdering her father has been pardoned only heightens her stress levels. When smoke jumper, Nate Beckett hears of his father’s pardon, he has no intention of returning to the small town that so quickly turned their backs on his family and accused Nate of burning down the church in revenge. But an injury while fighting large wild fires, means he must return, coming face-to-face with the woman who still holds his heart.

I was intrigued by the story in Smoke Screen. It is more a contemporary novel about romance, broken relationships and heartbreak, than suspense novel. There are two investigations in this story, both of which concluded, incorrectly, many years ago. But while these investigations are being re-evaluated now due to current events, they tick along in the background. It is Brenna’s story of alcohol abuse and battle for custody that drives the plot and brings tension to the book. I thought it was very obvious who the murderer would be and I was not surprised to be proven correct. The story just had too many easy fixes and neat endings not to go with that clean tie-up.

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Book Review: Deadly Deceit

Deadly Deceit – Natalie Walters – Harbored Secrets #2 – Revell – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

When journalist Vivian DeMarco’s boss dies under suspicious circumstances, her only hope for finding the truth is Deputy Ryan Frost. The deeper they dig, the more twisted the truth becomes, and someone called The Watcher forces Vivian to decide what she’s willing to lose for the sake of a headline.

My thoughts

Deadly Deceit combines romance with solid investigation as a detective and a reporter work together to uncover the work of a deadly blackmailer.

Vivian found a second chance in Walton. Fired from her last position for refusing to release harming details in her article, the kind-hearted Harold offered her a position at his newspaper. But when Harold dies with his last words to Vivian to find the details on a big story, she knows she must uncover what he was talking about. Ryan Frost has returned from training at Quantico and resumed a position as Deputy on Walton’s force. He has offers from the CIA and FBI but he doesn’t want to leave his family, like his father once did. When Ryan responds to the death of Harold, he and Vivian cross paths. She isn’t the dogged reporter he remembers and he isn’t the scrawny police officer she recalls from their past run ins. But, if Ryan wants to keep Vivian safe, he will have to work with her.

Deadly Deceit is the second book in the Harbored Secrets series by Natalie Walters. While the setting and characters from the first book have carried over into this second instalment, the main characters and plot are complete and so the two books can be read as standalone titles.

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Book Review: Protecting Tanner Hollow

Protecting Tanner Hollow – Lynette Eason – Tanner Hollow #1-4 – Revell – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Lethal Homecoming
Nolan Tanner never got over Kallie Ainsworth’s sudden, unexplained departure. Now when he comes to her rescue after an attempt on her life, all the old feelings come rushing back.

Lethal Conspiracy
When professional fundraiser Lillian Maloney sees her father’s campaign manager commit murder, she goes on the run from the men he hires to kill her. A close call brings firefighter Jason Tanner to the rescue, but the killer is closing in . . .

Lethal Secrets
Someone wants Honor McBride dead. When Eli Murphy helps her change a flat tire and discovers the danger Honor is in, he longs to help–but Eli has secrets of his own that could get them all killed.

Lethal Agenda
When Detective Derek St. John rescues a woman he’s met only once before–and has never been able to forget–he finds himself falling for her. But he’ll have to keep Claire Montgomery alive if they’re to have a future together.

My thoughts

Protecting Tanner Hollow is a collection of four novellas. Fast-paced and with plenty of romance, these four suspense novellas will have readers as eager to know who the bad guys are as they will be eager for a happy ever after ending.

The first story, Lethal Homecoming, follows Kallie Ainsworth as she returns home after six years away. After her mother remarried, Kallie faced physical and verbal abuse from her harsh step-father and only his death has her brave enough to return. But his death is not an innocent as it seems and before Kallie has even stepped foot inside her family home, someone is trying to kill her. With the help of an old flame, Detective Nolan Tanner vows to keep Kallie safe as they try to find the person behind it all. Simple story, unfortunately, this was my least favourite of the four novellas. So, if you too didn’t enjoy this first one, keep reading, as they all get significantly better.

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Book Review: Winterwood

Winterwood – Shea Ernshaw – Simon Pulse – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

My thoughts

Don’t go into the woods…. Winterwood is part murder mystery, part spooky story about evil woods, witches and ghost stories, and part romance. I loved some things about this book and yet other, little, things kept me from really enjoying this book. It wasn’t as scary as I expected, but it will certainly appeal to readers who like a dark atmosphere in their books.

Nora Walker comes from a long line of Walker women who have special powers. Some entered dreams, others wove simple spells and charms, and a few seemed to communicate with animals. Except for Nora. While her classmates and the boys in the nearby Camp for Wayward Boys, whisper that she is a witch, she knows that she is the only Walker woman without any special skill. When, during a massive snow storm, a boy from the camp goes missing and another is dead, Nora is drawn into the mystery when she finds the missing boy in the woods and takes him home.

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Book Review: Dark Ambitions

Dark Ambitions – Irene Hannon – Code of Honor #3 – Revell – Published 1 October 2019

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Synopsis

Former Army Night Stalker Rick Jordan usually has his camp for foster children to himself during the winter months. But someone has visited recently–leaving a trail of blood. One of the two clues left behind tips Rick off to the identity of his visitor, who soon turns up dead. The police deem it an accident, but Rick isn’t convinced. With the help of private investigator Heather Shields, he sets out to decipher the remaining clue. Except someone doesn’t want them to succeed–and will stop at nothing to keep them from finding the truth.

With her trademark psychological suspense ratcheting up the tension on every page, bestselling and award-winning author Irene Hannon takes you on a search for a cold-blooded killer with an ambitious goal and deadly intent.

My thoughts

Dark Ambitions is the thrilling third book in the Code of Honor series. It is a fantastic book, with crossover characters from both the two prior books in the series and the Private Justice series. It has scintillating romance and a crime to solve with limited clues to go on and plenty of intriguing suspects.

Heather Shields is the newest member of the Phoenix Inc Private Investigator team. When former Army Night Stalker, Rick Johnson, asks for her help to locate a missing ex-team member, she never could have expected where the investigation would lead them, or the possibility of a blooming romance between herself and Rick.

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Book Review: Living Lies

Living Lies – Natalie Walters – Harbored Secrets #1 – Revell – Published 21 May 2019

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Synopsis

In the little town of Walton, Georgia, everybody knows your name–but no one knows your secret. At least that’s what Lane Kent is counting on when she returns to her hometown with her five-year-old son. Dangerously depressed after the death of her husband, Lane is looking for hope. What she finds instead is a dead body.

Lane must work with Walton’s newest deputy, Charlie Lynch, to uncover the truth behind the murder. But when that truth hits too close to home, she’ll have to decide if saving the life of another is worth the cost of revealing her darkest secret.

My thoughts

Living Lies is the first book in the Harbored Secrets series by debut novelist, Natalie Walters. Walters has done a superb job of crafting a thrilling suspense, with threads of heart-pounding romance and important messages about acceptance and removing the stigma of mental health and depression. I truly enjoyed this exciting book and I look forward to reading the subsequent titles in the series.

Lane Kent knows heartbreak. She knows the guilt of her past mistakes. Returning to her home town with her young daughter was supposed to be a fresh start but sometimes the secrets and family expectations feel suffocating. When Lane finds a dead body in the woods, she and Deputy Charlie Woods team up to solve the case.

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