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By Kimberly Belle
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: 9/30/14
My Rating: 5 Stars
A special thank you to Harlequin MIRA and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The Last Breath, the scandalous and edgy debut novel by southern writer, Kimberly Belle will blow your socks off, for a mix of tantalizing romance, an intriguing murder mystery, and an intense suspenseful thriller.
The Last Breath, will leave you pondering, "Wow! A southern powerhouse . . if this is a debut novel, cannot wait for what is to come!"
Gia Andrews, a wanderlust, a global world traveler and humanitarian in Kenya, is back in small town southern Rogersville, Eastern Tennessee in the middle of the hills of Appalachia, a place she never wanted to visit again—to a house filled with ghosts and memories, she cannot outrun. A life she has spent the past sixteen years trying to escape. A murderer’s daughter.
The family is called home by her uncle, Cal (her dad’s brother and lawyer). Gia's father was imprisoned years ago after brutally killing her stepmother. Now he is dying of cancer and the three siblings (Gia, Lexi and Bo), are here to say their goodbyes. Her old home, once a place that instilled a sense of refuge and comfort, is now the opposite, full of grief, fear, and dread.
However, there is much stigma still attached to the murder in the small town, and Gia begins to dig deeper, as possibly there was someone else involved the night of the murder—could her dad be innocent? Someone wrapped Ella Mae in plastic and watched her take her life breath—a crime of passion?
Was her dad capable of premeditated murder, to carry out a plan to suffocate his wife and Gia’s stepmother? She is unsure she could ever forgive him or his behavior; however, she travels this long way, and she is not even certain she would be here, unless—what if he was innocent, as the evidence is unclear and the testimony conflicted. She feels there is a race against time, as if he is innocent, there could be a real killer still out there, and she needs to set the record straight before her dad dies.
Belle switches back and forth, seamlessly between past (1993) and present for a drama filled, fast paced saga of a time in a southern suburban neighborhood, a well-liked stepmother, Ella Mae, and father, Ray, a local pharmacist and a household full of secrets. When years ago, one empty nester, and beautiful housewife, gets involved in a romantic affair with the good-looking seductive married principal, Dean, who lives next door soon after moving to the neighborhood.
Dean is addictive and they plan their rendezvous at hotels, and sneak away between the houses for their naughty erotic behavior. She no longer loves her husband; however, when the affair heats up, the sexual exploits get kinky, dangerous, and out of hand, Ella Mae gets scared and wants out, or does she?
Now, Gina’s father, Ray has pancreas cancer and has from three weeks to three months to live. This disaster if too close, its aftermath still too painful. She cannot detach from its reality. Even though digging through old memories sounds like torture, she tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together as she begins to unravel dark secrets she has kept buried.
In the midst of the crisis, Gina meets Jack, owner of local pub who is there to offer his assistance (and a little more in other ways), and may be a key to the past. There is also an eager young journalist, Jeffrey ready to help with the investigation and a witty home-care nurse Fannie to make things more interesting. To further complicate matters, evil Dean still lives next door with his only friend, Jack Daniels (not so smooth or hot, now) and her uncle Cal seems to know more than he is saying.
An emotionally charged and searing drama, of one woman who risks her life to discover the devastating truth about her family. Belle did an outstanding job of keeping you guessing as to the identity of the real murderer, keeping you turning into the wee hours of the morning!
Nice character development and set up, well-written with descriptive scenes and raw emotions, dynamic plot planning, with compelling twists and turns, delicious secrets, lies, and deceit . . . for an emotional roller coaster ride of betrayal, lust, tragedy, and ultimately finding forgiveness, love and home.
I enjoyed Dean and Ella Mae’s story, as always intrigued by parents and their secret lives and how the two stories connected for a powerful climatic ending. The Last Breath reminded a little of Virtue Falls, by Christina Dodd, which readers may also enjoy, with a murder's daughter returning home to her dying father, with a totally different twist.
An ideal novel, for book clubs, groups, and discussions with a thought-provoking reader’s guide included, as well as Q & A with the author, and the inspiration behind the novel, and upcoming works. Kimberly Belle has made it to my favorite author list, and an author you will want to follow!