The Ursulina – Brian Freeman

Oh my goodness! I’m still reeling from this one…I don’t even know where to begin… 

In the prologue, a l0-year-old girl, who is also narrating the story, has a chance encounter with a creature that she describes as an Ursulina – and it has captivated her ever since…

Rebecca Colder Todd is the only female deputy in Black Wolf County and as such, she’s assigned to work the night shift on Christmas Eve.  As she answers random calls, including a naked resident dancing in 7 degree weather, she reflects to the reader about her tumultuous relationship with her husband Ricky and her growing desire for a divorce. Another call for vandalism comes – the victim, a local copper mine worker, who is involved in a lawsuit against mine owners for sexual harassment. In a town bitterly divided due to the lawsuit, malicious mischief is an ongoing occurrence, and this evening is no different.  Shortly thereafter, a call comes in for a missing person – not just any person, but the attorney defending the mine against the harassment lawsuit, Gordon Brink. His wife is unable to locate him anywhere…. Upon Rebecca’s arrival, a quick search of an ‘off limits’ office reveals a murder victim, or what’s left of him, with the words, “I am the Ursulina” written in blood above the bed where he lies, seemingly shredded by claws. 

As Rebecca sounds the alarm and other deputies arrive to assist, the reader learns that six years ago, there was a double murder with a similar message left, which at the time brought about unwanted notoriety and the creation of an urban legend of sorts for the town.  As the investigation commences, Gordon’s son Jay quickly falls under suspicion – known to have a difficult relationship with his father, and no real alibi – the possibility of a copycat murder seems plausible, but Rebecca isn’t convinced. 

Meanwhile, Rebecca’s personal life implodes as she discovers the danger of a whispered lie – and just how jealous, calculating and violent her soon to be ex-husband can be…. Recovering from a brutal assault, Rebecca is sidelined from her police work, but finds solace in another unexpected place…

Soon another murder stuns the small mining town once more, and Rebecca’s old partner asks for her perceptions in what appears to be another Ursulina death – this time the victim is someone well known to the team…

There are just no words I can write that will do this book the proper justice! It is an exceptionally well written and orchestrated nail-biter, as you flip through the pages  hurriedly to see what is going to happen next. Despite subtle clues along the way, I was completely unprepared for the ending, and am still floored a couple of days later, as I struggle to write this review without giving anything away!  I was not aware that this is apparently a prequel to a book published last year – easily read as a standalone, however. I’ve been a huge Brian Freeman fan since his first (I believe) book, Immoral, hit the shelves, and he just gets better and better!!  Please, please give this one a look – you will NOT be disappointed!! 

Stolen Angels – Rita Herron

Crooked Creek Detective Ellie Reeves is hopeful for a quiet holiday season as she and FBI Special Agent Derrick Fox head to attend the town Christmas pageant. Fresh off some stressful cases, along with some painful revelations in her personal life, she’s hoping for the time to sort things out, and bridge the divide she’s created with her parents after learning she was adopted and rescuing her birth mother from imprisonment. But, it feels like the quiet before a storm, and Ellie is inexplicably on edge.

Five-year-old Ava Truman can’t contain her excitement for the school party that’s planned for today. With cupcakes in the oven along with a raging migraine, her mother Lara watches her only daughter race to catch the school bus, waves as the bus goes by and heads for a short nap, before delivering the cupcakes to school.  Upon her arrival to Ava’s classroom, she learns that Ava never arrived to school, nor was she seen at the bus stop that morning.  

As Ellie and her team assemble to begin gathering information, Ellie learns that the family is going through a divorce and that Lara’s husband wants partial custody, frequently accusing Lara of not caring for her daughter. Could this be a custodial kidnapping? Shortly thereafter, items of young Ava are found nearby, including her backpack, and a stuffed bunny that she never allowed out of her sight. 

As the investigation deepens, Lara’s husband surfaces and denies knowledge of Ava’s disappearance, but some digging into his new girlfriend’s life has detectives on high alert. A records search for similar cases draws some strange parallels, and the discovery of another missing child who vanished a year ago to the day of Ava’s disappearance, whom has never been found. 

Another great read in the Ellie Reeves series, and another book that you shouldn’t start unless you’ve got some time set aside, because it will be THAT hard to put down.  Great as a standalone or in series order – if you love a suspenseful who-dun-it, add Rita Herron & Detective Ellie Reeves to your “must read” list! 

Desolation Canyon – PJ Tracy

I was thrilled to see that a second book in the Maggie Nolan series was available and have jumped at the chance to read it! 

As the novel opens, Margaret “Maggie” Nolan is headed to the gun range and contemplating life and the loss of her close friend a few years ago, and more recently her brother’s loss overseas. Having recently taken a life in the line of duty, Maggie is struggling to navigate her mental health after these events. Shortly afterward, she opts to meet Detective Remy Beaudreau for drinks at the Hotel Bel-Air, where they stumble upon a homicide victim, floating in the lake. 

Meanwhile, miles away in the desert, a young woman, Marielle, is desperately planning her escape from a captor that has held her and her daughter in his compound for far too long. Tonight is the night she plans to flee. 

Sam Easton, sole survivor of an IED that killed his entire unit in Afghanistan, is learning to navigate his PTSD. After a long jog in Desolation Canyon, in the desert like area of So. California, Sam is resting and sharing his water with a nearby lizard, when he hears a rifle shot. He returns to his vehicle and heads out to a service station on the edge of the Canyon for gas and snacks, where the clerk, Mike, clearly learning disabled, reports that aliens are being sought after and shot in the desert. He sees Sam’s scars, and attributing them to an alien attack, confides that he feels the local retreat, “The Children of the Desert” may be connected to the alien troubles. As Sam leaves the station, the conversation sticks with him. 

Meanwhile, Maggie’s mother, still struggling with the loss of her son, has decided to spend a weekend on a retreat in Desolation Canyon – at The Children of the Desert compound. With the retreat drawing rave reviews from socialites and the Hollywood elite, she thinks it may be just what she needs to come to terms with her loss. 

As Maggie, partner Al, and Remy begin their investigation, all of these story lines, seemingly independent of one another, begin to appear linked, with The Children of the Desert seeing to be front and center. Can Maggie and her crew get to the bottom of the hornet’s nest they’ve inadvertently stirred up before someone else has to die? 

This was a great read! It took me a bit to settle in and re-connect with the characters and their backstories, and I feel like it started a bit slowly as all the groundwork was being set, but once it picked up, I couldn’t put it down! Lots of action, plot-twists and suspense, but it all came together nicely in the end. Maggie is a reluctant hero struggling with her own mental health and there is much more depth to the key characters this go around. I’m anxious now for the next installment in this riveting new series! Great read! 

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from #Netgalley & St. Martin’s Press – Minotaur Books, in exchange for an objective review. 

Stolen – Tess Stimson

This was the first novel I’ve read by this author, but it will not be my last! 

Alex Martini is an attorney, and the mother of a very strong-willed little girl – in the opening chapter, you’ll learn all about the precocious Charlotte “Lottie” Martini as her mother shares some of her rebellious antics with the reader.  A single mother after the death of her husband Luca in a bridge collapse, Alex and Lottie are on their way to Florida to attend the marriage of her best friend Marc and his bride-to-be Sian. 

Despite Alex’s misgivings, Lottie behaves herself and the wedding goes off without a hitch. As Lottie and the other flower girls play with one another, Alex takes advantage of the break from parenting, and has a quick sexual encounter on the beach with a well-known tennis player. A few hours later, she realizes that the golden curled Lottie is nowhere to be found and sounds the alarm. Despite the entire wedding party and guests searching diligently, Lottie is nowhere to be found. As the press gets wind of the disappearance of the child, Alex’s life, both personal and professional, becomes tabloid fodder with everyone venturing opinions about the disappearance, preceding events & Alexa in general. As days go by, and all leads dry up, there remains not a trace of little Lottie. 

Quinn is a young journalist who works as a news correspondent when she’s not binge drinking. Grossly disfigured after an IED explosion while reporting from Syria, Quinn knows she’ll never be a prime-time anchor, but still carries a burning desire to chase a good story – and Quinn becomes very interested in Lottie’s disappearance. But she goes too far when she practically accuses Alex of negligence on national television and is removed from covering the disappearance by her employer. But Quinn is unwilling to let this story go. 

As weeks turn into months, Alex makes it her sole mission in life to discover what happened to Lottie. A video is anonymously sent to Alex with a shadowy figure carrying off a small child, a figure who seems strangely familiar – then a chance encounter between two passing trains has Alex sure she’s spotted Lottie and her kidnapper. Meanwhile, Quinn is doing her own research, digging through witness statements, photos, police reports and the like, looking for something – anything to help with the search. 

What really happened to little Lottie…???

I initially was hesitant to read this because I always find stories about missing children haunting, in a way. (Remember Finders Keepers, by Fern Michaels – that one is still with me – and I had to have read it 10-15 years ago – if you haven’t read it, you must!)  But read it I did, and transfixed I was by the disappearance, the storyline, the suspense, the whiplash provoking twists…this one kept me mesmerized as I, too searched for Lottie between each page.  Told from Alex’s perspective, with a mother’s love and brutal honesty, this one will resonate long after the last page is turned.