An engaging read that offers a novel spin on the notion that you can’t go home again.

THE ATROPOS MAKER

A military thriller about the travails of a secret soldier who attempts to put her family first.

At the heart of Lujan’s debut novel is Norma Veurr, who helped found Atropos, a top-secret, black-ops government agency, many years ago. Despite vowing never to come back to the espionage game, she agrees to do so in 2009 after two decades away; however, she has a sense of impending doom after her solo mission, and she reflects back over how she got to this point. First, her mind travels back three days to her visit to her small hometown of Martinsburg, West Virginia. LeRoy, the town sheriff, still suspects her in the murder of her father, Mackenzie, who forged Norma into the weapon she became. Then her mind drifts back further to meeting her husband, Alex, who was part of a team that rescued her from a mission gone awry. Next, she recalls the dramatic birth of her son, Alexander—the reason she left Atropos 20 years ago. Lastly, she thinks about a fateful night when Alexander visited his grandfather, which led to Norma’s return to Atropos. Later, Alexander joins Atropos and rapidly ascends to leadership; when his team is captured, he must rely on an unexpected rescuer. In this volume, Lujan colorfully tells Norma’s story from her miserable childhood onward. She’s a well-developed character, as are the most important people in her life. The author elaborates on why Norma makes the choices she does, which is often to protect her loved ones. Atropos is certainly an important element in the book but not as much as readers may expect; Lujan writes more about what led Norma to and away from Atropos and less about its actual missions. The narrative, which slips back and forth through time, can be a bit confusing, as can the fact that Norma’s husband and son share similar names. However, Norma’s exhilarating tale is worth the effort.

An engaging read that offers a novel spin on the notion that you can’t go home again.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5320-9062-2

Page Count: 166

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020

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A unique story of transcendent love.

LAYLA

An aimless young musician meets the girl of his dreams only to have his newfound happiness threatened by several inexplicable—and possibly supernatural—events.

The story opens as Leeds Gabriel meets with a detective while his girlfriend, Layla, is restrained in a room one flight above them. Through the interview, readers learn that Leeds was wasting both his time and his musical talent playing backup for a small-town wedding troupe called Garrett’s Band when he spied Layla dancing her heart out to their mediocre music at a wedding. When Leeds approaches Layla, their connection is both instant and intense. A blissful courtship follows, but then Leeds makes the mistake of posting a picture of himself with Layla on social media. A former girlfriend–turned-stalker wastes no time in finding and attacking Layla. Layla spends months recovering in a hospital, and it seems the girl Leeds fell for might be forever changed. Gone is her special spark, her quirkiness, and the connection that had entranced Leeds months before. In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, he brings Layla back to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. When they get there, though, Leeds meets Willow, another guest, and finds himself drawn to her in spite of himself. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Willow will either be the key to saving Leeds’ relationship with Layla or the catalyst that finally extinguishes the last shreds of their epic romance. Told entirely from Leeds’ point of view, the author’s first foray into paranormal romance does not disappoint. Peppered with elements of mystery, psychological thriller, and contemporary romance, the novel explores questions about how quickly true love can develop, as well as the conflicts that can imperil even the strongest connections. Despite a limited cast of characters and very few setting changes, the narrative manages to remain both fast-paced and engaging. The conclusion leaves a few too many loose ends, but the chemistry between the characters and unexpected twists throughout make for a satisfying read.

A unique story of transcendent love.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0017-8

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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An unevenly paced thriller that fails to match its predecessor’s level of intensity.

THE FAMILY REMAINS

In this sequel to The Family Upstairs (2019), two siblings continue to deal with the fallout of their traumatic childhoods.

Lucy Lamb is living with her brother, Henry, after the two have been reunited, and she’s focused on reconnecting with her eldest daughter, Libby, and building a more stable life for her younger kids. But when Libby locates her birth father, Phin Thomsen, who lived as a teenager with Lucy and Henry—all their parents were part of a cult led by Phin’s father and died together in a suicide pact—the family begins making plans to go visit him in Botswana until word comes that Phin has taken a leave of absence from his job. After tracing Phin to Chicago, Henry leaves abruptly to go find him and cuts off all communication, prompting deep concern in Lucy, who knows of Henry’s dangerous obsession with Phin (which goes so deep that Henry has fashioned himself to look like Phin). Meanwhile, human remains have been found in the Thames and traced to the childhood home Libby inherited, which leaves all three wanted for police questioning when it is determined the victim lived with Henry, Lucy, and Libby in their childhood home and was murdered. Separately, an unrelated character named Rachel Rimmer remembers her disastrous marriage when she is contacted about her abusive husband’s murder. In this latest thriller, Jewell dives back into the psyche of Henry Lamb, one of her most unsettling characters. She attempts to weave together four narratives but takes too long to develop connections among the disparate stories (especially Rachel’s), which means the novel is weighted down with unrelated murder victims and minor characters, both of which detract from the suspense of Henry’s pursuit of Phin.

An unevenly paced thriller that fails to match its predecessor’s level of intensity.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-7889-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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