Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Giveaway: Madame Picasso Prize Pack

Summary: Novelist Anne Girard brings to life the mesmerizing and untold story of Eva Gouel, the unforgettable woman who stole the heart of the greatest artist of our time. 

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world.

A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can't help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso's life. 

With sparkling insight and passion, Madame Picasso introduces us to a dazzling heroine, taking us from the salon of Gertrude Stein to the glamorous Moulin Rouge and inside the studio and heart of one of the most enigmatic and iconic artists of the twentieth century. -- Harlequin

I am always eager to read historical fiction books based on true characters, and MADAME PICASSO by Anne Girard (Facebook) certainly looks terrific. This novel is based on Eva Gouel, the memorable woman who had an affair with Pablo Picasso. I know next to nothing about Eva (or Picasso for that matter), so I can't wait to read and review it. Eva sounds intriguing and I'm excited to get an inside glimpse into the Moulin Rouge too! Read an excerpt here.

Thanks to the publisher, you can win The Golden Experience Prize Pack and see the Golden Age come to life! Enter for your chance to win a copy of MADAME PICASSO plus a film brick including Moulin RougeMidnight in Paris, and The Great Gatsby. Just fill out the form below before September 15th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: The Secret Life of Violet Grant (Audio)

Summary: Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Mad Men world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family’s past, and the hushed-over crime passionnel of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history.

Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grant’s magnetic former student at the beginning of Europe’s fateful summer interrupts this delicate d├ętente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husband’s perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionel’s shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free and seek a life of her own conviction with a man whose cause is as audacious as her own.

As the iridescent and fractured Vivian digs deeper into her aunt’s past and the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violet’s story of determination and desire unfolds, shedding light on the darkness of her years abroad . . . and teaching Vivian to reach forward with grace for the ambitious future––and the love––she wants most. -- Penguin Audio

I have to admit that much of my summer was spent listing to THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT by Beatriz Williams. Granted, the audio is over fourteen hours so it couldn't have been that much of my summer. Yet, it took me forever to get through this novel. Part of the reason was that it was summer and I didn't listen to audio books all that much. Another part of it, though, was that this story didn't hold my interest like I had hoped.

THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT begins in 1964 when Vivian Schuyler receives a surprise package. The contents of this package bring up more questions than answers, and Vivian becomes involved in learning about her family's secret past. Vivian's aunt, Violet Grant, was a scientist who lived in Berlin in 1914; and she was quite possibly involved in the murder of her husband.

As a budding writer for a magazine, Vivian decides to investigate the mystery surrounding her aunt. She discovers that Violet fell in love with her husband's former student Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army. As the beginning of World War I is on the brink, Violet and Lionel decide to run away together. However, it's also the same time that Violet's husband is found murdered. Was Violet involved in the death of her husband?

THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT had all of the makings of a book I'd enjoy; however, I can't say that it workd for me. I liked the idea of a novel going back and forth between the two women's perspective, both from very different time periods; and I always am ready for good mystery. In all honestly, I think the author did a good job of balancing the two women's stories, and her research into the time periods was evident. The problem that I had was that I didn't really like either woman enough to be all that interested in their stories.

I know, I know... I don't have to love the characters to appreciate a novel, but in this case, I think it would have helped. Both women were very strong, albeit in different ways; however, I was bothered by each one. Vivian was a little too bold and abrasive for me, while Violet ended up coming across as almost weak once she became involved with Lionel. For a woman who was such a brilliant scientist, I guess I wanted Violet to be stronger when it came to falling in love.... but keep in mind, I'm not a big fan of romance in stories.

The mystery was somewhat intriguing and I can't say I figured it out (although I wasn't trying all that hard to figure it out.) The ending of the story had some interesting twists about Violet's life, and I did appreciate how the story eventually came together. Overall, I'd say this aspect of the story was my favorite.

As far as audio productions go, I actually think this one was pretty good. The story was read by Kathleen McInerney, and she did a good job with both Vivian and Violet's stories. Each woman's voice was distinct and I never got confused as to whose story was being shared. In addition, she used a variety of European accents, and while I admit I'm not an expert with dialects, I thought she did a fine job with them.

THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT would probably work for many book clubs. Since the novel was part romance, part historical fiction and part mystery, there is certainly something which should appeal to almost everyone. There is a reading guide with thirteen interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to look into include secrets, the role of women, love, betrayal, honestly, adultery, friendship, and marriage.

THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT didn't really work for me, but after looking at multiple reviews, I have a feeling that I'm in the minority. Give it a try if you like historical fiction books with an element of mystery.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this audio book.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kid Konnection: Craft Mania

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you two fun craft books that are perfect for elementary age kids!

Summary: Part craft book, part activity book, Rubber Band Mania offers hours of creative fun for boys and girls of all ages!

Now you can make more than just a simple bracelet! This book is packed with ways to use rubber bands to make bracelets, belts, desk organizers, toys, musical instruments, art projects, and much more. Peppered through the pages are fun and interesting facts and trivia about rubber bands. -- Reader's Digest

Summary: Part craft book, part activity book, Duct Tape Mania! offers hours of creative fun for boys and girls of all ages!

This book is packed with ways to create all kinds of accessories, jewelry, bags, decorations, fix-its, and more with little more than a roll of tape. Peppered through the pages are fun and interesting facts and trivia about the amazing duct tape. -- Reader's Digest

I know it's the start of the school year for many kids and they have a lot less free time than during the summer, but I wanted to feature two very cool craft books -- RUBBER BAND MANIA and DUCT TAPE MANIA by Amanda Formaro. I'm a firm believer in kids having fun while demonstrating their creative side, and these two books have loads of activities for boys and girls.

RUBBER BAND MANIA features almost 50 craft ideas made with rubber bands. Now if you're like me, you probably think this book is all about those rubber band bracelets which were all the rage last year. And truth be told, this book does have some of those bracelet patterns included. However, it is so much more than just jewelry. 

The book is divided into the following sections: Stuff to Wear, Stuff for Home, Stuff that Goes, Stuff to Create, Stuff to Play, and Stuff to Try. Naturally the Stuff to Wear section include many bracelet patterns, but it also has patterns for a necklace, ring, earrings, and even a chain belt. (see photo below)
I was definitely impressed with how unique the patterns were. There are many home decorating ideas including a pencil can and a trading card organizer. There are also lots of fun toys to make including (my favorite) a Cup Rocket Launcher. (see photo below), a Bobby Pin Launcher, and a Rubber Band Powered Boat. There are even some cute crafts you can make including Dyed Eggs, Glitter Art, and Easy Tie-Die Designs.
DUCT TAPE MANIA is just as terrific as RUBBER BAND MANIA. My daughter has crafted some very cute things with duct tape, and I love how you can jazz up almost anything with a little duct tape. Duct tape sure has come a long way than just a silver or black multi-purpose adhesive!

DUCT TAPE MANIA has about 40 patterns and is divided into the following chapters: Stuff to Wear, Stuff to Carry, Stuff for Your Room, Stuff for School, Stuff for Fun, and Extra Stuff. There are so many cute ideas in this book that I had a hard time picking out my favorite projects.

Since it's back-to-school time, I decided to take a peek at the Stuff for School section. These patterns include Desk Organizers, Book Jackets, Personalized Pencils (and Pens!), Pencil Toppers, Clipboard, and even Bookmarks. I like that kids can decorate the things they need for school and make them unique!

There is all a fun section on things kids can make for their bedroom. The banner (which I also think could decorate a locker) and the lamp shade are two fun ones. (see photo below)

All of the instructions in both books have full page color photographs and simple step-by step instructions that will definitely appeal to children. In addition, there are fun facts thrown in as well as little hints to make things easier!

I just love RUBBER BAND MANIA and DUCT TAPE MANIA, and I think most kids will agree. There are so many wonderful craft ideas that are sure to keep your kids entertaining. Highly recommended!

Thanks to FSB Associates for providing review copies of these books.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The House We Grew Up In

Summary: Meet the Bird family. They live in a simple brick house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching just beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together each night. Everybody in town gushes over the two girls, who share their mother’s apple cheeks and wide smiles. Of the boys, lively, adventurous Rory can stir up trouble, moving through life more easily than little Rhys, his slighter, more sensitive counterpart. Their father is a sweet gangly man, but it’s their mother, Lorelei, a beautiful free spirit with long flowing hair and eyes full of wonder, who spins at the center.

Time flies in those early years when the kids are still young. Lorelei knows that more than anyone, doing her part to freeze time by protecting the precious mementos she collects, filling the house with them day by day. Easter egg foils are her favorite. Craft supplies, too. She insists on hanging every single piece of art ever produced by any of the children, to her husband’s chagrin.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy occurs. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass and the children have become adults, found new relationships, and, in Meg's case, created families of their own. Lorelei has become the county’s worst hoarder. She has alienated her husband, her children, and has been living as a recluse for six years. It seems as though they’d never been The Bird Family at all, as if loyalty were never on the table. But then something happens that calls them home, back to the house they grew up in—and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Delving deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the gripping story of a family’s desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home. -- Atria

When I was pitched THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN by Lisa Jewell, I immediately accepted it! I remember reading Ms. Jewell's book years ago and loving them, and I was happy to see that she was still writing. And then I read the review for her latest novel in Entertainment Weekly (one of my go-to sources for book recommendations)... Can I tell you how excited I was for this book?

THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN features a rather dysfunctional family -- and I do love books about messed up families! The Bird family lives in a nice home in the Cotswolds surrounded by lush gardens, and everything appears to be perfect. Lorelei, the mother, is a bit of a free spirit and their father is a nice man. Meg is the eldest and the most pragmatic, while Beth is a bit of a dreamer. The youngest two are Rory and Rhys, twin boys with very different personalities.

Lorelei truly treasures her children and all of their artwork... and basically everything else they collect through the years. Her lovely home becomes a bit of a cluttered mess as Lorelei is unable to throw anything away.

One Easter weekend, a catastrophe strikes the family that has far-reaching effects. The Bird family is never the same again, as each individual goes their own way and struggles to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy. Meg goes off to start her own family, while Beth seems like a lost soul who is afraid to leave her mother. And then there's Rory who travels to far off destinations and finds himself in loads of trouble. However, it's Lorelei who is perhaps the most affected by the tragedy but shows it the least to her family. She becomes a recluse and a hoarder, afraid to even leave her house overnight.

Another tragedy occurs which brings the remaining family members back together to their family home. Secrets are revealed as the Bird family struggles to forgive each other and move on from that terrible Easter weekend so many years ago.

I absolutely loved THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN! Truly, I adored each and every page of the wonderful story about the Bird family. I was totally absorbed in the drama that surrounded their lives, and I couldn't wait to see how the story would end. Naturally, I was hoping for something positive to happen to these folks after having to deal with so much heartache.

I especially loved the premise of this novel -- a major tragedy occurs which causes many ripples in this seemingly normal family. It was fascinating to see how each character reacted not only right away, but many years later once they were adults. I especially appreciated that, like some of the characters in the novel, I wasn't really sure what happened that Easter weekend. I knew it was going to be something awful, but I had no idea how horrible it was. Because the family never really discussed what occurred that weekend, they weren't able to deal with it and ultimately move on. It was all so sad!

Once the family came back together after the second tragedy, I found their lives even more fascinating. I really think Ms. Jewell did a great job of getting inside their skin and defining their relationships with each other. I really appreciated seeing them come back together and begin their healing process.

One very special thing about this novel was how the house itself became a secondary character in the story. I loved the early descriptions and could picture this beautiful house. However, I also could equally picture the disgusting mess it became as Lorelei's hoarding issue took over her life. That the family was able to find some peace and comfort in that very same home was such a great way to come full circle in the novel.

THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN was so smart and insightful and would, of course, make a great book club selection. The story and characters are wonderful, but it also touches upon so many important issues that are relevant to all types of families. There is a reading guide available with seventeen questions. Some of the themes you might want to further explore include mental illness, depression, hoarding, secrets, adultery, escapism, parent/child relationships, family dynamics, addictions, forgiveness, and redemption.

I loved THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN! Highly recommended for fans of family dramas.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Guest Blogger: Darcie Chan

Summary Josie DiSanti is starting over. Recently widowed, she has fled her New York City home with her two young daughters—spirited Rose and shy Emily—in tow. She takes refuge in Mill River, Vermont, to live with her only remaining relative, Ivy Collard, the local bookstore owner and a woman Josie barely knows. There, the young mother and her girls build a new life for themselves—until a shocking tragedy tears the sisters apart. 

Years later, Josie’s still-estranged daughters return to the quiet town for the reading of their mother’s will, which stipulates that they must work together to locate a hidden key to a safe-deposit box containing their inheritance. Even from the great beyond, it seems Josie will do anything to bring about her daughters’ reconciliation. Having no choice but to go along with their mother’s final wishes, Rose and Emily move back to Mill River for the summer to begin the search—discovering that, in the close-knit community known for magic and miracles, an even greater treasure awaits them. -- Ballantine Books
Yesterday, I reviewed THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION by Darcie Chan. Once again, Ms. Chan has written a book that's not only touching but also compelling. I'm really becoming attached to these Mill River folks!

I am very honored that Ms. Chan has taken time out of her busy publicity schedule to write a guest post for my blog, and I'm even more excited about the topic -- her publication journey. She's got a great (and very unique) story!
My Publication Journey
I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl.  In middle school, after winning a school writing contest, I rushed home with my little trophy and announced to my parents that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.  My mom, an English teacher, said, "Great! Go for it!" My dad, who also worked in education, as an administrator, gave me more realistic advice. It would be hard to earn a living as a writer, he told me, and most writers never find success. He advised me to choose another career, since I could always write on the side. I first followed Dad's advice. After finishing college and law school, I settled into a legal job I loved. Then, I finally decided it was time to heed my mom's suggestion and "go for it." I was ready to attempt a first novel.
Like so many other aspiring writers working on their first books, I poured my heart into mine.  When I felt the manuscript was ready, I was lucky enough to find a wonderful literary agent who was willing to shop it around – to take a chance on it, and me, despite my story being a “quiet” one and me being completely unknown as a writer. My agent valiantly worked for almost two years trying to sell my book. Unfortunately, though, as is the case with many first novels, mine didn’t find a home with a publisher at that point.  I saved the file to my hard drive, and life went on.
Several years later, I began reading articles about the popularity of e-books and how it was suddenly possible for writers to make work directly available to readers.  My first novel was still languishing on my computer, and I felt I had nothing to lose by releasing it electronically.  In fact, when I uploaded The Mill River Recluse to various e-book retail sites in May and June 2011, it was done as an experiment with two goals in mind.  First, I wanted to see what sort of feedback I might get on my story, since I could use that feedback to improve my writing.  And second, I hoped that, over time – what I expected to be months and probably years – I might gradually be able to introduce myself to readers.   If readers liked my novel, maybe I wouldn’t be completely unknown by the time I’d finished a second book.  
At that time, I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me.
During the first month my novel was available, I sold around 100 copies.  I was so excited – to think, 100 people had my book!  And surely, some of them would leave reviews containing the critical feedback I wanted. My husband, son, and I did a happy dance in our kitchen!  But from then on, the sales figures exploded, and we were shocked as we realized what was happening.  
Within three months of hitting the “upload” button, The Mill River Recluse had sold nearly 100,000 copies and landed on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, where it remained for the next seven months.  I started receiving emails from readers praising my novel and asking when it would be made available in print or when I might have a second book available.  In December 2011, The Wall Street Journal ran a feature on my novel and my self-publishing experience, Yahoo! News picked up the feature and ran it worldwide on its homepage. Pandemonium ensued.
My phone began ringing off the hook. Other writers were calling, wanting advice or simply to get together for coffee. Other reporters were calling, wanting interviews. (I changed my number to an unlisted one immediately!) My website email inbox was accumulating emails faster than I could scroll down the page. My attorney colleagues were incredulous, as most of them had no idea I’d written a novel years before and had recently, casually decided to self-publish it. Several of my clients emailed, sending me links to the online article and saying things like, “Oh my God, is this you?” My agent was fielding phone calls from publishing companies and film studios. My family and my closest friends, scattered in a half-dozen states across the country, were calling and emailing ecstatic messages of support. 
I was a quivering mess. All I could do was sit and hug my son. I knew that things had changed permanently for me at that point. 
By the spring of 2012, just a few weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of my novel’s upload date, more than 600,000 copies of my first novel had sold. I’d left the legal job I’d held for more than a decade – the job at which I’d expected to work until retirement – to write full-time.  The Mill River Recluse had been picked up for publication in several foreign markets, and I’d signed a contract for two new Mill River novels with Ballantine Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Ballantine eventually picked up the rights to The Mill River Recluse for publication in the U.S. and Canada as well.
Although my journey to publication took one of those new paths and was far more unusual than any scenario I’d ever imagined, I’m thrilled to be where I am today.  The release day for my second novel, The Mill River Redemption, is finally here, and I've also finished a first draft of the third Mill River novel. I’m a writer.  It still feels exciting and a little strange to say that, and it will be a challenge now to maintain this new writing career, but I’m up for it. I'm also incredibly grateful to have had my childhood dream come true.
Darcie Chan is the New York Times bestselling author of the eBook sensation The Mill River Recluse and the novel The Mill River Redemption. She has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. For fourteen years, Chan worked as an attorney drafting environmental and natural resource legislation for the U.S. Senate. She now writes fiction full-time and lives north of New York City with her husband and son.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: The Mill River Redemption

Summary: Josie DiSanti is starting over. Recently widowed, she has fled her New York City home with her two young daughters—spirited Rose and shy Emily—in tow. She takes refuge in Mill River, Vermont, to live with her only remaining relative, Ivy Collard, the local bookstore owner and a woman Josie barely knows. There, the young mother and her girls build a new life for themselves—until a shocking tragedy tears the sisters apart.

Years later, Josie’s still-estranged daughters return to the quiet town for the reading of their mother’s will, which stipulates that they must work together to locate a hidden key to a safe-deposit box containing their inheritance. Even from the great beyond, it seems Josie will do anything to bring about her daughters’ reconciliation. Having no choice but to go along with their mother’s final wishes, Rose and Emily move back to Mill River for the summer to begin the search—discovering that, in the close-knit community known for magic and miracles, an even greater treasure awaits them. -- Ballantine

THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION by Darcie Chan is the second book in the Mill River series, and it doesn't disappoint. Once again, Ms. Chan has created an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives are touched by their family and friends in Mill River. Fans of the first novel won't want to miss what happens next in this charming and delightful town!

THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION has a few stories going on, but the primary one focuses on Rose and Emily, two young sisters who arrived with their mother in Mill River after their father was killed in a house fire. The story fast forwards to the present day when both women come back to Mill River for their mother Josie's memorial service. Rose and Emily are estranged, to say the least; and Josie has made it part of her will that they must work together, while living next door to each other, to find a hidden key. This key will open a safe-deposit box and the women will discover their inheritance.

Of course, Rose and Emily both have their reasons that they have to work together, though neither one is thrilled. In fact, tensions escalate as they individually search for their own clues. Secrets from both women's lives come to the surface as the reader begins to understand why they dislike each other so much; and unfortunately, it takes a serious accident, along with a huge surprise, before the Rose and Emily even think of reuniting.

I really enjoyed THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION and all of the drama between Rose and Emily. Like the first novel in the series, I again fell in love with this close-knit community and its citizens. I was thrilled to see some of my favorite characters, like Father O'Brien and Daisy, return in this book; and their presence made me feel like I was visiting with old friends.

I did like how Ms. Chan created Rose and Emily's back stories and how she gradually revealed them. The book goes back and forth between the present and the past, as well as between the various characters; and it really felt like a mystery of sorts was being unraveled as the event around their break-up was disclosed. While that "event" was tragic to say the least, the real surprise of the novel occurs near the end... and it's one big shocker!

One thing that I really enjoyed about THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION is how it made me feel. I'm pretty sure that I wrote almost the same thing in the first book review of this series too! I love this community and its quirky citizens, and I also like how they come together to help their friends and family in need. It just warms my heart. I am such a sucker for books about redemption, and I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that a major theme of this novel is redemption (it's in the title!)

THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION works as a standalone novel with only a few hints as to what happened in THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE. However, I definitely recommend reading them in order. There are a few recurring characters whose stories pick up where they left off in the first novel, and I think learning their background allows the reader to feel more vested in their lives.

Like the first book, THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION would make a fantastic book club pick. The characters in this novel are all dealing with their fair share of baggage which provides a great deal to discuss. Fortunately, there is a reading guide with fourteen questions; however, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have any problems finding things to discuss on your own. Some of the themes you might want to explore include sister relationships, mother/daughter relationships, addiction, grief, secrets, parent/child relationships, forgiveness, love, guilt, friendship, and redemption.

THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION is ultimately a special story about families and forgiveness. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Phantom Instinct

Summary: When shots ring out in a crowded L.A. club, bartender Harper Flynn watches helplessly as her boyfriend, Drew, is gunned down in the cross fire. Then somebody throws a Molotov cocktail, and the club is quickly engulfed in flames. L.A. Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison sees a gunman in a hoodie and gas mask taking aim at Harper, but before he can help her a wall collapses, bringing the building down and badly injuring him.

A year later, Harper is trying to rebuild her life. She has quit her job and gone back to college. Meanwhile, the investigation into the shoot-out has been closed. The two gunmen were killed when the building collapsed.

Certain that a third gunman escaped and is targeting the survivors, Harper enlists the help of Aiden Garrison, the only person willing to listen. But the traumatic brain injury he suffered has cut his career short and left him with Fregoli syndrome, a rare type of face blindness that causes the delusion that random people are actually a single person changing disguises.

As Harper and Aiden delve into the case, Harper realizes that her presence during the attack was no coincidence—and that her only ally is unstable, mistrustful of her, and seeing the same enemy everywhere he looks. -- Dutton

I've been in the mood for a good suspense novel for some time, and Edgar award-winning author Meg Gardiner's latest PHANTOM INSTINCT fit the bill. This novel had some very likable characters   that were put in some interesting situations to say the least, and Ms. Gardiner's writing brought the book to the next level.

In PHANTOM INSTINCT, Harper Flynn is tending bar when men open fire on the bar's patrons. Then one of the men throws a Molotov cocktail setting the entire club on fire. Harper's boyfriend is shot in the crossfire and winds up dead despite Harper's best efforts to save him. Meanwhile, L.A. Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison witnesses the shootings prior to having the building fall down on him. Harper has no visible scars, but she is mourning the loss of her boyfriend; while Aiden has some serious neurological damage which affects his ability to be a policeman.

The story picks up a year later when both Harper and Aiden are trying to rebuild their lives. Both claim that they saw a third gunman who escaped, but the police don't believe them. In fact, the investigation is closed. Harper is trying to have the case reopened to no avail, so she asks Aiden for assistance.

Harper and Aiden work together to track down clues, and Harper begins to realize that maybe she was supposed to be a target in the attack or at the very least set up by the gunmen. She learns that the third gunmen in, in fact, very real and someone she knows from her past.

I really enjoyed PHANTOM INSTINCT... especially the first half of the novel. I loved how Ms. Gardiner described the attack in the nightclub in all its horror. She truly did a great job of bringing that horrific night to life for the reader. In addition, I really liked both Harper and Aiden and I felt that they were well developed characters. I appreciated the intrigue around what happened during the attack, and I thought Ms. Gardiner did a great job of building tension as the characters tried to discover the truth behind the shootings.

The second half of PHANTOM INSTINCT was extremely fast-paced, but I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first half. It was basically one huge action packed sequence after another, and I thought the author did a good job of keeping the story moving while also creating even more excitement. I have to say that there were also a few major surprises that were pretty shocking, and I loved how they were revealed to the reader. While I know that the second half of the story was probably even more interesting than the first half, I actually liked getting to know the characters and the stories around them a bit more than the action scenes.

As far as mysteries go, the identity of the third gunman is revealed pretty early on so I don't know if I'd say that that aspect was a huge secret. There were a few other "mysteries" that were eventually revealed, but I actually considered this novel more of a suspense story or a thriller. Ms. Gardiner definitely had some surprises up her sleeve, and I think most readers will be shocked by what happens to both Harper and Aiden and a few others!

PHANTOM INSTINCT is a fast--paced thriller that sure to be a hit with readers who enjoy action-packed scenes and well-developed characters.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.