Still Life // by Dani Pettrey

//published 2017//

Still Life is the sequel to Cold Shotand as the books focus on a group of friends, my guess is that there will be a few more books in the series.  While there were several things that I enjoyed about this story, it also fell into some ruts in places, so overall I’m going with the same rating as I gave the first book in the series – 3.5/5.

The initial mystery in this book is great.  It starts with Avery visiting the opening of an art show.  Avery used to be a photographer, but was blacklisted (before the events in the first book) because of a controversial political shot.  After that, she worked for a while as a crime-scene photographer, which is where we met her in Still Life.  However, she felt like her feelings were growing too strong for her employer, Parker (a crime-scene analyst), so since the ending of the last book, she has gone back to doing some free lancing.

At any rate, this art show is one of the first times that she’s reentered the professional photography sphere and she is a bit nervous.  But she promised her friend that she would come.  Skylar and Avery grew up together, and even though they aren’t as close as they once were, Avery still feels a lot of responsibility for Skylar.  While Skylar isn’t an artist, she is the focus of the art show that is getting ready to open, as the photographer used her as his model.  Weirdly enough, the artist chose to use a theme wherein he posed his subject as though she had died.  Kind of creepy, but artists can be a strange lot.

When Avery gets there, she is surprised that she can’t find Skylar anywhere.  But Avery doesn’t really begin to worry until the photographs are revealed – and the artist becomes enraged because not only has someone stolen one of his photographs, it has actually been replaced by another picture of Skylar posing as though she has died… except Avery isn’t convinced that it is actually a pose…

Soon Avery and our friends from Cold Shot (which you definitely need to read before reading this book to really understand the interactions between the main characters) are scampering all over the place trying to put together the clues.  And while some of them have jurisdiction over what they are doing, I was sometimes confused about how they would just knock on doors and ask questions and people would just chat it up with them without requesting any kind of proof that these people should be asking these questions.

Then there was this weird secondary plot with a terrorist who snuck into the country illegally on a boat, and that thread just didn’t seem to fit with the Skylar story at all.  Instead, it felt like a heavy-handed contrivance so Pettrey could keep setting up another couple for the next book.  I found myself mildly aggravated, because with a little more attention, I think that the Skylar mystery could have been much stronger.  Like I understand that you want to make characters flow from one story to the next, but I don’t have to be repeatedly told about the confused/conflicted feelings that these other two have for each other just so I’ll understand the next book.  Instead, it felt like the other couple was stealing the show from Avery and Parker.

As with Cold Shot, there was more romance/relationship than thriller, which would have been fine if the focus had stayed on Avery and Parker.  I think that Still Life would have greatly benefited from focusing on the Skylar mystery and the Avery/Parker relationship, and relegating the build up for the next book to the background.  Still, this was a solid read with engaging characters, and I do see myself continuing through the series.  The ongoing mystery of what happened to Luke several years ago is being woven into these stories, so I’m hoping for a grand finale tale at some point that will answer all of those questions as well.

My only other issue with this book is the cover art.  This one isn’t quite as bad as Cold Shot, but I’m just really not a fan of carrying around a book with a brooding hero on the cover, especially when I felt like the book was actually a lot more about Avery than it was about Parker.

Many thanks to Bethany House, who provided me with a free copy of the book.  My sincere apologies for taking so long to get to this review, but life has taken one of those turns for the crazy!

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Cold Shot // by Dani Pettrey

I received Still Life from the publisher in exchange for a review, and because of who I am as a person, I knew there was no way that I could just jump into the second book in a series, so I checked Cold Shot out of the library so I could read it first.  I’m really glad that I did that in this instance – these two books are really closely connected, and Cold Shot gives a lot of the background for the group of characters whose stories continue in Still Life.  I think I would have been confused if I had tried to read Still Life on its own.

These were the first of Pettrey’s books that I’ve read, although I’ve had her Alaskan Courage series on the TBR for a while now.

Both books focus on a core group of friends.  Griffin, Luke, Declan, and Parker all grew up together.  Several years ago Luke disappeared.  Another dramatic event had already fractured the relationship between Griffin and Parker, so while the remaining three friends have stayed in touch, things just aren’t the same.

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//published 2016//

Cold Shot opens with Griffin working as a park ranger at Gettysburg.  It was actually kind of funny to me because my husband and I had been talking that day about going to Gettysburg this spring, and I had been reading some stuff online and recalling other trips I have made there (he’s never been), then I flip open Cold Shot and bam!  Gettysburg!  Another funny thing was that despite the fact that I’ve been to Gettysburg several times, I somehow never really realized how close it is to the Chesapeake Bay/Baltimore, Maryland.  So there was this kind of weird ocean/bay vibe that wasn’t remotely bad, but just funny because I never really think about Gettysburg in those terms.

Anyway, in the first chapter, Griffin interrupts some guys trying to do some grave looting in the park. Except it turns out that skeleton they’ve found is much more recent than Civil War era.  Griffin calls in forensic anthropologist Finley Scott to check out the body, and she confirms that the body has been here less than a year.  As the case unwinds, both Declan (now working for the FBI) and Parker (a crime-scene analyst) get called in as well, and soon the three are working through not only the case, but their shared past as well.

So overall I did like this book and was engaged in the story.  It kind of reminded me of Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series, where everyone in this group of friends just-so-happens to do something super helpful for crime solving, but I was willing to roll with it.  I really liked Griffin and Finley together and felt like they developed a solid relationship.  Pettrey also did a good job a weaving a theme of the importance of forgiveness (of others and of self) throughout without turning preachy.

However, the thriller/mystery aspect wasn’t particularly strong.  In some places, the twists felt a little left-field, and in others things fell into place a little too smoothly.  Also, they determine at one point that the sniper was shooting from a range of 1500 yards, and I looked it up and while it is possible, it’s like ridiculously difficult, to the point where it seemed hard to believe that a sniper that skilled would be able to just sort of fade away and no one would know where he was or what he was doing.  And while I liked Griffin and Finley together, their continual internal dialogue about not feeling good enough for the other began to get a little repetitive in places, feeling more like filler than actual story.

Still, a decent book, which was also encouraging because it meant that the book I had actually agreed to review probably wouldn’t be terrible!  Overall, 3.5/5.  Recommended if you like your thrillers to have a bit more romance than thrill.

Also, Stephanie reviewed this book last year when it first came out, so you should check out her review here.

PS I think this book lost a half star just because of the cover.  Like what is with that dude?  He looks like he’s cold and also possibly having some gas pain or something.  Weirded me out.  Although I will say that I’m overall not a fan of just a PERSON on the front of a book; that always seems weird and awkward to me.