The Look Alike – Erica Spindler

Sienna Scott is a college freshman when she returns to her college dorm one night, and nearly stumbles over the body of a young co-ed in the snow, fresh blood staining the ground where she lay.  Memories of which haunt Sienna to this day, and a crime that has never been solved…

Ten years later, after being sent to live in London with her grandmother in the aftermath of the murder,  Sienna returns home to small-town Tranquility Bluffs, Wisconsin, to her remaining family – her mother and her half brother Bradley. Sienna’s mother struggles with paranoia, due to persecutory delusional disorder, and Sienna’s time away has not changed any of that.  Upon visiting her brother, she also learns some disturbing news – the police department, after 10 years, is re-opening the investigation into the campus death. 

As Sienna settles back into her childhood home, her mother confides in her that a supposed trip and fall down the stairs, was really the result of her being pushed.  Her mother is also very fearful that the wrong person was killed on campus all those years ago and tells Sienna that she’ll do anything to protect her. As Sienna works to ease her mother’s delusions, she can’t help but flashback to the killing, and the unforgettable fact that she and the victim were wearing the same white jacket. Could the victim have been mistaken for her? And why? 

Sienna, anxious to learn of the now re-opened investigation, pays a visit to Chief Thompson, an old friend of her fathers, to learn the details. The chief informs her that retirement is close, and he is unable to let the case go without trying to find closure for her family. Sienna also relates a strange phone call she’s received since returning home. He introduces her to the Detective in charge of the case, who as it turns out, was the campus police officer who responded to her screams for help 10 years ago. 

As Sienna re-connects with her family and begins a new relationship with a handsome next-door neighbor, strange phone calls continue, relationships become strained, and Sienna doesn’t know who to trust, or believe. As her mother’s delusions spiral completely out of control, Sienna can’t help but wonder if there’s a bit of truth to her mother’s ravings; perhaps she was the intended victim of that fateful night…

Told in sequences from Sienna’s past and present, this novel sets the stage with page flipping action that kept me reading well into the night as Sienna tries to learn what really happened all of those years ago…and inadvertently puts herself in the crosshairs of a killer…

I have always enjoyed Erica Spindler’s work and this book was no exception! With enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, and then second guessing yourself, it was literally impossible to put down!! A stellar read from one of the greats!! 

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an objective review.

Jingle All The Way – Debbie Macomber

Everly Lancaster is a top performer at the real estate company, Easy Home, that she and her college classmate Jack Campbell co-founded, and she has just hit her limit. Her wayward assistant, Annette, who also happens to be Jacks niece, has just made a grevious error, leaving Everly speechless, literally, in front of a large group of real estate brokers gathering for an awards banquet. Furious, Everly fires her then and there, only to find her back in the office Monday morning, with Jack insisting she have another chance. When Everly pushes back, Jack insists she take a vacation, and Annette promptly books her the last room on a luxurious cruise to Brazil. In an effort to make amends, she takes care of all the details, from flights to international visas, leaving Everly little to do but tie up loose ends and pack. 

Initially resistant to the idea of a vacation, Everly finally concedes, believing that a cruise will do her some good. With flight delays almost pre-empting her trip, she breathes a sigh of relief that she arrives in time for the last call to board and is the last passenger to embark on the ship. The ship then immediately sets sail. Looking around as she’s escorted to her cabin, she’s quickly aware that this isn’t a typical cruise ship. Talking to the staff, she learns that this is a naturalist cruise into the Amazon rainforest, and that there is no cell service, internet or other connection to the outside world. Frantic, she demands the ship return to port, only to learn that isn’t possible. So, she’s determined to make the best of it. 

She soon meets Asher Adams, the ship’s naturalist, and as Everly adjusts to life without modern conveniences, she finds herself growing more attached to him as the trip progresses, as he continually rescues her from mishaps, to sharing stolen kisses & long talks deep into the night. As her feelings grow, she assumes that Asher’s are as well, so she’s shocked and stunned as he bids her farewell at the dock, with no intentions of continuing the relationship they’ve started. Saddened, Everly returns home and heads to her childhood home for the Christmas holiday, where reuniting with her family eases her loneliness, as back in Brazil, Asher tries to forget Everly…

But with Christmas comes magic, and this holiday will bring its own surprises……

I love happy endings, and this sweet story is guaranteed to bring you right into the holiday spirit!!  Another great, “feel good” read as the fall season comes upon us. 

The Off–Islander – Peter Colt

Private Investigator Andy Roark is a bit of a loner, grabbing divorce and cheating spouse cases to make a living. He’s Boston raised, and Vietnam bred and just doesn’t quite fit in with society any longer. Used to a purpose for everything, he struggles with PTSD in a world he sees with no order. Andy’s closest friend is Danny Sullivan, his childhood buddy and now successful attorney, who calls Andy with a missing person’s case. A wealthy client in San Francisco is looking for the father who disappeared many years ago. With her husband making a Senate run, she wants to ensure there will be no surprises forthcoming from the past.  

Andy flies to the west coast and meets with Deborah Swift. There he learns of her father, Charlie Hammond, also a war vet, who headed out for a pack of cigarettes one evening, never to return to his family. Despite her hiring Pinkerton detectives, his trail ran cold, and Andy may her last hope. Pinkerton was able to learn that several checks from the VA were sent to Hyannis MA before they stopped altogether. She and Danny are hopeful that as a Boston ‘insider’ he’ll discover things that others cannot. 

Intrigued, Andy takes the case. Upon visiting the address where the checks were delivered, he discovers an old woman who used to run a commune of sorts on her property. After speaking with her and learning of her youthful exploits and the many vagrant visitors she had back in the day, he’s intrigued by her explanations and her inability to remember if Charlie Hammond had ever been one of them. When he takes his leave, he does a bit of snooping and finds a pretty sophisticated camera system, and evidence of drug dealing.  What seemed like a dead end is suddenly much more interesting.

As Andy keeps digging and gets ever closer to his prey, he inadvertently raises the ire of others, and strange things start happening. A shove out of nowhere that launches him off of a hillside, a very close call or two in the woods, and an unexpected  (well, perhaps in retrospect it was to be expected) ending, will keep the pages turning deep into the night,  and the mystery lover satisfied! 

The book started off a bit slow for me, but then took off like a rocket. The characters are engaging – though at times difficult to like – and the backstories into their lives serve to help us understand why they are who they are for this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed Andy’s character and really hope to see him continue to develop and grow in future novels! Here’s hoping!! 

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an objective (if not very, very overdue) review. 

The Christmas Table – Donna VanLiere

In early 1972, John Creighton unloads three slabs of black walnut wood from his pick-up truck and carries them into his workshop. His intent is to handcraft his wife a kitchen table to replace the formica set they presently have, and he hopes to have it completed for Thanksgiving, just six months away, to surprise her. But then a devastating diagnosis brings much change to his family and the plans they all have. 

In 2012, Lauren Mabrey, an assistant at Glory’s Place, which hosts afternoon programs for students, learns to her surprise that she is expecting her first child. Still newlyweds, she and her husband are thrilled, and quickly realize that they need to do some quick renovations to their home. On a visit to a local builder, she finds a table, newly refinished, that will work perfectly in their kitchen. With the help of her friends, she brings it home, only to discover a hidden drawer beneath the table – and in it – stacks of handwritten recipe cards. A foster child herself, she is fearful of not knowing how to be a ‘good’ mother, so fascinated by the recipes, Lauren is determined to teach herself to cook. Using the recipes, she becomes very curious about the woman who wrote them, and the personal messages on each card referencing events of her and her family’s lives. Determined to return the recipe cards to their rightful owner, Lauren attempts to find the family, using clues from the personal notes added. 

Told from past and present, the reader learns about both families, as John and his young family struggle through the hand that they’ve been dealt and learn to trust in faith, while Lauren revels in her pregnancy, learns to cook, and starts her search, fruitlessly it seems, for the family whose lives are chronicled amongst their wonderful recipes. But Christmas is coming, and with it a baby, and perhaps a small miracle or two…

This was a sweet story, and I can totally see a Christmas special coming from it! While the writing wasn’t as in depth as I might like, with personal emotion and reflection from the characters, the message and sentiment is beautiful. A nice easy read that will lift one’s spirits and faith in mankind. 

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an objective review.