Mystery & Thriller

The Last Straw by Ed Duncan

The Last Straw is Ed Duncan’s second book in the Pigeon Blood Red series. In this crime thriller, readers are reintroduced to the talented hitman Richard “Rico” Randers. Rico is approached by Howard Forester, a notorious crime boss in the Chicago area, after Forester’s son kills a man in an attempted carjacking. Forester is determined to silence Sandra Yanders, a teenager who, having witnessed the carjacking, is set to testify against his son. Forester asks Rico to murder Yanders but he refuses. Rico is against killing such a young, innocent girl but John D’Angelo, another hitman and Rico’s enemy, agrees to take the job. Tensions between D’Angelo and Rico run high as Rico teams up with a lawyer, Paul Elliott, to try to protect Yanders, and themselves, from D’Angelo’s fury. 

With danger looming in every chapter, The Last Straw is an action-packed and nerve-racking read. Duncan skillfully draws the reader into a complex web of characters navigating difficult situations. A few key twists within the storyline keep the reader intrigued in this fast-paced thriller, and despite the fact that they are both killers, the main characters  are very likable. The Last Straw casts an interesting light on right versus wrong, urging readers to reflect on the morality of the book’s characters and the motivation of one’s actions. Multiple people are killed in The Last Straw, and while these murder scenes are well executed, the emotional reactions of the surviving characters are not convincing. The Last Straw is an outstanding crime thriller which could be made even stronger by further developing its characters’ expressions of grief and fear in the face of extreme violence. 


Coattails and Cocktails by Rumer Haven   

Friends, family, and flirts alike gather for a routine dinner party at the Belleau estate, but something isn’t quite right this time. There’s newspaper tycoon Colonel Ransom Warne and his tart-tongued wife, Edith; Lottie Landry, a silent film starlet and the Warnes’ one-time ward; Noble Howard, Lottie’s volatile co-star and soon-to-be fiancé; Helen Conroy, a columnist for Warne’s newspaper; and Rex Rainger, a man with too many merits to list. Isolated at the estate, this dinner party is forced to face death head-on when one of its members turns up murdered. The question is: who’s the culprit? Dark motives will come to light as each of the characters quests after the murderer’s true identity.

Coattails and Cocktails is a delightful whodunnit that combines elements of classic Jazz Age tales like The Great Gatsby with more contemporary crime capers like the 1985 film Clue. As in any ensemble, a piece like this only works if all its parts pull their own weight – and in that regard, we are happy to say that Haven has crafted a well-oiled machine with this new book. The characters and the dialogue play especially well to Haven’s strengths as an author, and their pleasures only increase as the plot’s true fuel begins to burn. We love murder mysteries where past missteps and misdemeanors are trotted out to bring a deeper dimension to their characters – something Coattails and Cocktails demonstrates with particular aplomb.


Smoke Screen by Nicholas P Clark

At the start of this romantic thriller, Pam is sipping a tequila sunrise at a bar in Cancun – but she’s not here for a vacation. Pam is an undercover agent with the CIA who has been tasked with bringing down one of the largest drug cartels in Mexico. Short after arriving, she meets the man of her dreams, an international consultant named Brandon who woos her with his frank and open overtures. But Pam knows that she is in Mexico on assignment; there isn’t time for true love, and what’s worse, Brandon could get hurt by the fallout from Pam’s meddling in Mexico. While struggling between love and country, Pam comes across information that reveals things about Brandon he hasn’t told her – it turns out that the man of her dreams might not be exactly who he says he is.

Smoke Screen by Nicholas P Clark is a highly enjoyable hybrid of a book combining the best elements of crime capers and getaway romances. Clark’s main character, Pam, is a kind-hearted, passionate woman, and the reader truly becomes invested in her pursuit of true love and professional prestige. That being said, one downside of hanging so much of the novel’s material on one character is that the reader sometimes wonders why Pam acts the way she does. If, for example, Pam has devoted all of her life toward joining the CIA, why would she allow herself to be caught up in such an impromptu love affair while on assignment? In the end, one supposes that Clark is trying to illustrate not just the positive qualities of love and devotion, but also their very real drawbacks: obsession, jealousy, sacrificing one’s own well being. These are all themes that strike to the heart of Smoke Screen and imbue it with a sense of emotional acuity. Caught up in the intrigue, you’ll be reaching for that imaginary tequila sunrise by your bedside table before you know it.


Starter by James E. Loyd and David Matheson


A thrilling suspense novel and murder mystery, Starter by James E. Loyd and David Matheson is a multi-layered narrative that includes every kind of topic you’d want in a thriller, ranging from murder, overdose, mob connections, betrayal, secrets, lies, and revealing flashbacks. The book kicks off in 1997 in an upscale neighborhood in San Antonio where a high school senior is found dead. Even though it is claimed to be due to an overdose, suspicions abound, the lives of three of the main characters intertwining at this time, before we shift back to the late sixties, getting the backstories of what led the characters to this moment. Readers will be intrigued with everything that happens, as the plot follows the father of the victim and his high school sweetheart, her father’s mob connections, and the revelation that the high school student was apparently poisoned. This leads the characters on a quest for answers, and revenge.

The story line is often complex, and even though the chapters are very short and easy to get through, there is a lot of exposition and background dumped on the reader at one time. The authors build strong characters and an interesting story line, but at times it becomes somewhat muddled due to how many characters and facets of the storytelling are being weaved together. The timeline moves quickly, with entire years being represented by short chapters that are only one or two pages long. However, the dialogue is raw and realistic, and the characters are painted in a believable fashion, making them come alive on the page. Readers will be drawn into the story, with its many twists and turns, rushing through to the very end to find the answers that seem to be alluding everyone else trapped within the pages of this suspenseful nightmare.


The Emerald Cave by James McPike


After chasing down a notorious villain, Vince Ramsey picks up the trail of a dangerous arms dealer. His quest to find out who this man is and what he wants leads him across the globe. Joined by April, his equally beautiful and smart partner (both in work and love), and Daniel Copinsky, a colleague working for the Ministry in Israel, Vince sets out to solve the mystery of a century. Leaving April and Vince in Geneva to check out a lab he believes may be linked to the dealer, Vince makes the long trip down to Antarctica where he discovers the arms dealer is searching for the Holy Grail in an old abandoned Natzi bunker. He befriends a scientist who leads him to Cordoba, the arms dealer, who just days before had come asking the same questions as Vince. Cordoba and his crew waste no time capturing Vince and are soon led to the bunker by the scientist who they are threatening. Inside the bunker there are many rooms and secrets, some of which include animals you could never have dreamt of. After a long search for the Grail it is finally found and Vince somehow makes it out alive just in time to get a flight back to Switzerland in pursuit of the man who took the Grail. Back in the lab, April and Daniel are finding that the director is not as nice as he may have appeared. Vince appears in time to realize that the director was planning on purchasing the Grail in order to recreate the Big Bang.

With a refreshingly realist twist at the end, where instead of believing the villain the hero decides instead to deem him unstable, The Emerald Cave is a fun read playing on a more modern version of Indiana Jones or James Bond. Wasting no time describing characters our minds have already made up, McPike does an excellent job of using stereotypical characters to his advantage. He uses quintessential characteristics of villains and heroes mixed with more modern settings to draw the reader into a plausible story (even if we do know it’s realistically unbelievable). The compelling plot line moves at such a pace that the reader is never bored or confused. Proving that all we need is a good adventure, McPike provides us with something we may have forgotten we wanted – a great chase.


The One by Réal Laplaine

four stars

35754818The One, the third installment of the Keeno Crime Thriller Novels, written by Réal Laplaine, finds protagonist Keeno McCole at the center of yet another mystery, this one more dangerous than ever. Investigating the murder of the Prime Minister’s niece, Keeno finds himself caught up in the midst of a dangerous cult and threats to his country. As a part of the ATU (anti-terrorism unit), Keeno has seen it all, but this case proves to be trickier than the others, involving domestic terrorism, a menacing religious cult with an exorbitant amount of power, and the national news media. Keeno and his team must solve this case, before more get hurt, but the further down the rabbit hole they go, the more insidious the case becomes.

There is no doubt that Réal Laplaine can create a nail-biting mystery. The more you read The One, the more suspicious you get, and the more desperate you get for a resolution. The story keeps its reader on their toes, and nothing is easily predicted. That’s the real draw of The One—how unpredictable it can be. The writing is strong, the plot even stronger, and the ending will keep the reader up at night. The only possible weakness comes from the minor characters, who become more caricatures than actual, fleshed-out participants in the story. Where Keeno and his case shine, the rest of the cast fades into the snowy, bleak background. The One finds its strength in the many moving parts of the story, which accounts for any flaws present. A thriller to the end, The One will satiate even the pickiest of crime novel readers.


Screwed Up World by Tim Shumaker


worldJay Storm wakes up on a cold winter morning like any other normal day. He gets ready for school, he meets up with his friends, and he goes with them to their morning homeroom class. Jay and his group of friends quickly realize something is wrong when none of the teachers and many of the other students don’t show up by the first bell. They all band together and try to figure out what could be happening. When they see some of their fellow students acting like rabid animals and unaffected by pain, they realize something is very wrong. Once Jay and his friends discover life as they knew it is over, they team up and fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic world that has become overrun by zombies.

Tim Shumaker puts forth a fun story about a world overrun by zombies with Screwed Up World. The audience finds a friendly and knowledgeable narrator in Jay Storm, a teenager living in a seemingly quiet suburb. The action and adventure start right away as the audience learns of the zombie outbreak in the first couple of pages. Long chapters help the audience keep up with the pacing of the story. With frequent twists and turns, the action continues throughout the entire narrative. While Jay and his friends are fun characters, it can be hard to keep up with all six of them in the beginning. Jay Storm’s play-by-play narration style can at times tell us too much extra information. Ultimately the reader will enjoy the action-packed story and will be waiting for more after the cliffhanger ending.


Some Are Shadows by David Sayre


shadowsSome Are Shadows by David Sayre is set in Miami Florida during 1952. The Miami Police department has a different set of priorities from private investigator Ben Sheen. It becomes up to him to find out who strangled Etta Childs and left her dead on the floor. As Sheen begins to investigate who killed the singer, he realizes this is a dirty case. In order to solve this murder, Sheen will go up against influential political powers, as well as old colleagues in the police department. As he searches for clues he’ll be drawn into an unexpected romance that he hopes won’t become the next casualty. Sheen will need all of his wit and a quick trigger to find out who is trying to stop him and who killed Etta Childs. Will Sheen be able to solve the murder and get the girl?

A well-written novel, Some Are Shadows has a reader friendly prose style that will engage readers from start to finish. Readers will become invested in Ben Sheen’s investigation while he battles the corruption of the Miami Police Department and its political players. Short chapter lengths help to keep the steady pace of the story as Sheen moves through his investigation. Facing multiple obstacles and push back from old police colleagues, Sheen will have to use all the tricks in his book to solve the murder of Etta Childs. The audience will enjoy his resourcefulness and a romantic subplot which makes his investigation more complicated, as Sheen tries to protect his new love interest. Twists and turns will keep the audience engaged to the end.


Inside by Scott M. Hoffman

four stars

insideInside by Scott M. Hoffman is about the organized crime family, the Outfit. Originating in the South Side of Chicago and rising to power during the 1920’s, the Outfit ran the city and had a reach that extended beyond Chicago. Written from the perspective of Bobby Williams, the eight-year-old son of Jimmy Williams a consigliere of the Outfit. We first meet them in 1956 when Jimmy first starts bringing Bobby with him to his Outfit dealings. As a way to start educating Bobby on what this kind of life means, Jimmy exposes him to the wide variety of criminal activities like gambling, loan-sharking, prostitution, drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, labor racketeering, adult and child pornography, political corruption, and murder. Jimmy wants Bobby to be able to decide for himself when he is older if he’ll follow his father’s footsteps and join the Outfit. Following Bobby at different points in his life, we’ll find out if he joins the Outfit or stays out of the South Side of Chicago.

The characters and events in Inside are composites of real people and real events. This provides an exciting setting for the audience reading about the Outfit crime family in Chicago. Providing a view of the Outfit through the eyes of Bobby, the son of an Outfit crime boss, is an interesting way to learn about the crime family because he is learning about the Outfit at the same time as the reader. Seeing Jimmy through the eyes of his young son engages an interesting father-son dynamic to the story from the get-go. With no chapters or parts, the pacing of the book and the timeline can sometimes feel a little overwhelming or confusing because there aren’t easy stopping points for the reader of definitive story breaks. However, the audience will enjoy feeling like they are sitting with Bobby in person hearing his stories about the Outfit’s criminal activities and learning whether or not he joined the Outfit with his father.


Sub-Sahara by Ethan Arkwright

four stars

arkwrightSub-Sahara by Ethan Arkwright opens with a team of archaeologists digging in the desert hoping to find a significant discovery of ancient ruins. They eventually uncover what appears to be a tomb with a tunnel at the end and are excited to find out whether their dig will lead them to important historical relics. Suddenly, and with little warning, a wind storm leaves them trapped in the tomb and isolated in the middle of the Sahara Desert. The archaeologists are able to emerge from the tomb and find that the winds uncovered a massive ancient city with a large silver pyramid at its center. It turns out that the pyramid has a strong energy source still emitting power even after thousands of years. Soon there is a race for the nations to battle over what could potentially be a new form of energy that could be used for either the greater good or for evil, and a British team of Special Forces agents are at the center of the fight to bring it to scientists to be studied.

Most of Sub-Sahara is a detailed account of the fighting that takes place over the mysterious energy source. It starts off fast-paced and extremely intriguing, but seems to go on long enough for the reader to begin to lose interest. The plot has an interesting premise and good character development, and the reader roots for the leader Cavill and his team the whole way through as they suffer losses and near defeat. It is an action-packed tale of discovery and modern-day battle that is both engaging and extremely enjoyable.


Decoys by Kenneth Tetzel

four stars

41wefmqBxlL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Decoys is a compelling thriller by Kenneth Tetzel. Based on his personal experiences enjoying The Refuge Areas, Tetzel maintained the setting and feel of California’s wetlands throughout this entire novel. Told in multiple points-of-view, Decoys is a who-done-it page-turner about Sarah Crosby’s murder. Wife of an abusive man and daughter of quirky and loving parents finds justice from the grave when her husband, Marcus Crosby, is murdered in cold blood in the driveway of his home. The only witness to the murder is an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Patterson, who had a strong relationship with Sarah Crosby. Feeling as more of a mother than neighbor to the former Mrs. Crosby, Mrs. Patterson was willing to provide as much as she could recall on the day Mr. Crosby was killed. With a partial plate and vague vehicle description, Partners Regina Gonzalez and Chris Davis investigate Mr. Crosby’s brutal murder. Gonzalez, daughter of Mexican immigrants that came to the US to find work on the farms, is a determined cop who relies on no one but herself, both in her professional and personal lives. Relationships bloom between suspects and investigators during the investigation, giving this murder mystery a seductive flair.

Kenneth Tetzel webs a story of passion, revenge, guilt, and regret intertwined with memorable characters that readers will easily identify with. The fast-paced investigation is equal parts mystery, love, and affairs that will leave readers guessing until the very end. Decoys will have you laughing, crying, and fighting for justice on every page. Continuously relating the plot to the distinct California setting, readers will easily become immersed in this suspenseful story.


Omerta: Mafia Code of Silence by Rona Newton and Mark Biermann


51xvRuqc9tL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Omerta follows the adventures and intrigue of Marko Bennett, a young, handsome man who grew up lavishly as the only son of a LAPD official with Mafia connections. After over two years serving in the Special Services in Afghanistan, Marko returns to Los Angeles with a hardened mentality that comes in handy as he moves through the ranks of the local organized crime and drug market. While making a name for himself on the black market lifting high end cars, Marko also developed a life-long love of NASCAR driving. Marko’s escapades lead him all around the world and to some of the most infamous parties where he is always surrounded by piles of money, beautiful women, and flowing drinks as he takes on the more responsibility in the Mafia. Against all odds and by cheating death, Marko rises to the ultimate power while also falling for the passionate woman of his dreams.

The drama and action in Omerta is always at the highest level and the authors expertly weave the plot through the ensemble of characters in a way that heightens the adventure, romance, and scheming necessary in a Mafia family. Many of the characters fall into stereotypical gender roles where the Mafia men are hard, violent men and the women are either young and beautiful or superb cooks and dutiful housewives. Marko is also an unlikable hero who is not actually that heroic. He shows no remorse for the chaos, death, and destruction left in his wake and can never be caught because of the intricate web of connections protecting him. His love for Georgia redeems him only slightly but his wandering eye undermines any salvation she offers him. Overall, this is an exciting read filled with fast car chases, lavish clubs, and Mafia dynamics that is perfect for fans of organized crime thrillers.


The Diamond Head Deception by James Blakley

four stars

diamondLuna Nightcrow is an independent insurance fraud investigator working in Iowa. After closing the crop insurance case, Luna heads to Hawaii for her next job, wheere she has been hired to investigate the sinking of the Indian ocean liner, The Shilpa, and whether the rare diamond the Pacific Splendor was lost at sea. However, Luna is not the only one looking for the diamond that is insured for $15 million. Running into secessionists, sportsmen, and other suspects who are willing to go to great depths to either recover or hide the Pacific Splendor, Luna must find a way to close her case.

James Blakley starts the story off with a bang as the reader meets Luna closing in on an insurance scheme in Iowa. Starting off with conflict and gunfire in the first few pages, readers will be hooked on Luna’s adventures. With mystery, action, and romance The Diamond Head Deception will be a fun read for the audience. Reader friendly writing and short chapter lengths keep the audience’s attention through this fast-paced story. The Diamond Head Deception is an entertaining read and the quick thinking and daring Luna Nightcrow will make readers a fan.


Fractured Dreams by Jacqueline Noel Wacaster

four stars

dreamsFractured Dreams is about Dave Caster, a former government agent now living secluded in the mountains of West Virginia with his dog. Dave goes on a routine hunting trip one day when he runs into Samantha Corbin, a young woman having trouble with her memory. Reaching out to some of his old contacts Dave tries to help Samantha understand her situation, only to discover that she is at the center of a conspiracy. He learns Samantha has been brainwashed into becoming a deadly assassin in a plot to eliminate a potential representative of the United States government. Dave is thrust back into the world he left behind as he tries to help Samantha and protect the potential representative.

Author Jacqueline Noel Wacaster has delivered an exciting suspense story of government conspiracy. With short chapter lengths and reader friendly prose, the pace of the novel is quick. Readers are able to keep up with the twisting story as they find out more about Samantha and the conspiracy. The author has created an interesting foe with the Army of Faith and their elaborate plan to create a deadly assassin with the sole purpose of killing one individual. This is an engaging story about trust, family, and friendship with plenty of surprises along the way, ensuring that readers will be drawn in right to the very end.


Beyond the Garden Gate by Jo Bradley

four stars

Beyond the Garden Gate by Jo Bradley tells the story of Dave, a father of two struggling with a crumbling marriage and career. Dave’s misfortune quickly worsens when his unfaithful wife is mysteriously killed and he is charged with her murder. After years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Dave is determined to piece his life back together, reconnect with his children, and uncover the truth about his wife’s death. However, these goals prove harder than anticipated as Dave encounters characters with ulterior motives which leads to half-truths and paves a convoluted path to justice.

Readers are witness to the downfall and ultimate rise of a man as he navigates deeply traumatic events steeped in mystery. Although Dave’s journey is at times unbelievable, as the magnitude of his bad fortune is hard to fathom, readers nonetheless find themselves rooting for Dave through his many trials. The characters Bradley introduces us to in Beyond the Garden Gate are not what they seem. Dave’s relationships take sharp turns, riddling the plot with shock and intrigue; those close to Dave betray him while those who were once Dave’s enemies come to his aid. This theme spurs readers to reflect on the nature of their own relationships and how good and evil can manifest. Within Beyond the Garden Gate, Bradley builds a complex web of interconnectedness between the characters and the strange events that unfold. Every scene and conversation is significant, a deliberate move by Bradley that makes his suspenseful read worth a thorough read.


The Glass Demon by Jerry J.C. Veit

four stars

glassThe Glass Demon, a screenplay-novel hybrid by Jerry J.C. Veit, details the forty-sixth case of clairvoyant-medium William Corgel. As Corgel investigates an apparent haunting in the home of the Glass family, he is forced to deal with the mysteries of his past while fighting the darkest and most dangerous being he has ever encountered. Sure that the Glass family is sincere, and that the haunting is real, Corgel discovers secrets so gruesome and macabre, they would keep him up at night were it not for the booze and pills. In order to rid the home of evil spirits, Corgel must delve deep into his past and reconcile with his own personal demons, all the while the life and eternal soul of young Elizabeth Glass hangs in the balance.

At times, The Glass Demon relies on familiar clichés from the horror and paranormal genres. A haunted basement, a feel of unease at 3 A.M., slithering snakes, a looming presence both in the shower and behind you in the mirror—none of these are new for the experienced horror reader (or viewer, for that matter). That’s not to say the book is tired. Rather, it instills a deep and insidious paranoia in its reader. Veit is well versed in all things ghosts, demons, and paranormal activity—that much is apparent within the first few pages. Veit’s protagonist is jaded in a worn out and familiar way, but he finds redemption with the readers in his interactions with supporting characters. In particular, the scenes with Demonology Professor Mikael are especially captivating, and the reader actually learns something. Corgel’s conversations with Angie the Friendly Ghost are sincere, but though there are tiny jewels of wisdom, they often border on cliché. In the end, despite its familiarity, The Glass Demon does what any good horror novel should do: it scares the hell out of you. It fails to rise above and beyond, but it succeeds in keeping you up all night.


Where the Fulcrum Lies by Matt Lakes

four stars

fulcrumDaniil Kuryakin is a nuclear physicist at the top of his field in the Soviet Russia. After the sudden death of his wife, Daniil struggles to move forward. Feeling lost he becomes haunted by the questionable circumstances of her death. Daniil decides to dedicate his life to finding out the truth about her death, which sends him down a journey intertwined with conspiracy, loss, and love. Finding an ally in a Muscovite woman named Zoya, she helps him navigate this path and confront the forces behind the conspiracy. Will he be pushed to betray his country? Will he find the answers he is looking for?

Author Matt Lakes delivers an intriguing mystery set in Soviet Russia. After the sudden loss of the wife of main character Daniil Kuryakin, the reader becomes aware that a large conspiracy is forming. The author keeps the intrigue with obstacles and twists for Daniil to face, while still trying to maintain a semblance of his former life. A story set during the Cold War delivers conspiracy, loss, and new love. The author’s short chapter lengths help keep the pace of the story moving forward. When the necessary context of nuclear science is included it can slow the pace up a bit, but it doesn’t become too much for the unfamiliar reader to handle. Lakes builds the tension and mystery as the story progresses, ultimately leading the audience to a climactic ending.


Blue Diamond by Judy-Lynn Wheeler


blueWhen Lin Ansley Fletcher’s ailing father suddenly enters her life, she finds herself standing to inherit a lucrative company and a large scale cattle ranch she knew nothing about. While struggling to adjust to this new life filled with invaded privacy, private security and detrimental secrets, Lin comes face to face with more than she could have bargained for. Upon learning the ropes of the family business, Lin faces more than a troublesome acquisition of assets when her greedy and ill-advised step-brother enters the fold, unwilling to lose what he claims is rightfully his. To complicate matters further, the deadly consequences of an auspicious decades-long feud over precious missing stones, not only puts Lin’s life in danger, but the lives of everyone she now holds dear.

Author Judy-Lynn Wheeler creates a landscape that crosses borders and seas at any given moment and welcomes the reader through every given terrain. Taking place in South Africa, Australia and the US, Lin Fletcher finds herself living a life of the unexpected. And one much more dangerous than she could have imagined. Weaving between legal jargon, familial reconnection and tepid romance, Wheeler leads the reader through the missing pieces behind the threat to Lin’s life, her father’s true intentions and subsequent dying wish, and the struggle of choosing between two men who hold dangerous secrets of their own. While instances of dialogue and plot are difficult to follow and minute details can feel bogged down, Wheeler has the reader rooting for Lin Fletcher to take control of her life and steer it toward the fulfillment she’s desperately spent her life seeking.


Driven by Rick Jacobs Sr.


drivenThe narrative for Driven by Rick Jacobs Sr follows Angela Harwell, a Domestic Violence Detective in Memphis, Tennessee. A survivor of a traumatic childhood herself, she’s dedicated her life to helping others get out of domestic abuse situations. When a particular case catches her attention, she embarks on the path to hunt down Tyrone “T-Bone” Reed, the ruthless leader of the Memphis gang, The Family. When a run-in with T-Bone and his crew turns deadly, Harwell is driven by revenge to stop him and his gang once and for all. Outnumbered and outgunned, she realizes that sometimes help comes from the most unlikely of sources. Pushed to her breaking point Harwell must make a life-altering decision.

An exciting crime thriller Driven pulls readers into the good vs evil fight. Following a heart-wrenching beginning, the author jumps ten years ahead. An effective time jump, author Rick Jacobs is able to maintain high tension and high drama from start to finish. Readers will become invested in Angela Harwell’s story, her relationship with her grandfather, and her pursuit of justice. With a reader-friendly prose style and varying chapter lengths, the novel keeps up a quick pace. Jacobs has created well-developed characters with backstories and at the end provides satisfying glimpses into their futures. An exciting thriller about crime, family, and the pursuit of justice, readers will be left wanting more from Angela Harwell.


The Curse of Lost River Canyon by Mark Zeug


curseThe Curse of Lost River Canyon follows grief stricken Jake Garner. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Jake has finally returned home to the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. His childhood home and the family’s small ranch now belongs to him after the sudden deaths of his mother, father, and brother. With an injury preventing him from serving another tour, Jake has been raising horses on the ranch to support his family. Now mourning the loss of his wife Jake returns to the nearby Lost River Canyon as he looks for solace in the isolated spot. Where he’s never seen another person before he observes an attempted murder in the canyon. As he attempts to save the victim and resolve the situation Jake realizes he needed saving himself.

Mark Zeug draws readers in right away by starting right off with an attempted murder. He creates the perfect setting for drama with the Lost River Canyon. The cavernous backdrop heightens the tension and the stakes of Jake trying to intervene in the situation. Despite how little time actually is passing in the long chapters, the pace of the story is quick. Zeug keeps the attention of the audience with multiple twists and constant tension. Jake becomes a multi-dimensional hero in the story as he struggles with his grief and ends up involved in a conspiracy. Beyond the conspiracy and action, this is a story about grief, healing, and companionship. The attempted murder only the beginning of the story, readers will be hooked to the last page.


Stalker, My Love by Zack Scott

four stars

stalkerStalker, My Love by Zack Scott follows the untraditional love story of Rosalyn Ray and Rhett Calloway. In their early twenties and still living in their hometown, the motley gang—self-named REM, for Rosalyn, Elliot, and Mimi—attempt to navigate life in a stiflingly small town: Pine Bridge. Unlike most traditional love stories, this one begins with the would-be knight-in-shining-armor perched in a tree with a pair of binoculars, creepily observing his maiden fair. Clumsily, fumbling, and bumbling, Rhett is caught red-handed by Rosalyn, who promptly threatens to call the authorities on him. Meanwhile, her best friend, Elliot Venice, a newly minted deputy, and the supposed love of her life, Earl Wick, a washed up ex-high-school-baseball player, slept together, completely confounding everything the moment Rosalyn winds up a missing person. Of course, the minute she learns of her best friend’s disappearance, Elliot jumps right into action, despite the fact that her superiors caution her to wait the full 24 hours before launching an official investigation. Spurred by equal measures of love and guilt, she enlists the help of an unlikely gang of fellow officers. Through twists and turns and topsy-turvy unrealities, the truth of Rosalyn’s disappearance proves to be stranger than fiction—as does the romance that burgeons in the midst of it all.

Written compellingly and framed in a brilliant manner, Stalker, My Love turns the genres of romance and thriller on their heads with its novel concepts and fresh style. Further, the dialogue aptly captures the real cadence of modern speech and consequently enthralls the reader—at some points even lulling them into a false sense of security. Stalker, My Love features the kind of writing and fast-paced narrative arc that make its nearly 350 pages fly by seemingly in an instant. By the end of the journey, you’ll swear you know Rosalyn and Rhett as though they were your own best friends and closest confidantes. At that point, you may also start to question your own sanity, as whom you can trust becomes less and less clear. The lines of reality and fantasy blur, and they blur often, but that’s part of what makes the story so incredibly fascinating—and infinitely worth a deep-dive. If you are at all a fan of mysteries centered on vanished characters, whodunnits where anyone and everyone is under suspicion until the very end, or thrillers that involve elements of dark romance, then Stalker, My Love has your name stamped on its cover.


The Illusion by Patrick Garry

four stars

illusionA psychological thriller that follows Luke Sellmer as he aims to build the perfect life for himself, all the while grappling with the demons from his dark and troubled past, The Illusion is the kind of novel that will keep you guessing until the last page. Working as an investment banker, Luke is aiming to make his way to the top, as he worms his way into the elite society to which his fiancé Lauren’s family is a part of. As the complicated layers of his life unravel, he becomes a partner to a rising political star, is exposed to a murder charge, and uncovers a damning social scandal. Luke has to try to balance his ambition with the danger that seemingly lurks at every corner. As the narrative moves toward Luke and Lauren’s wedding, Lauren deals with issues of her own, as her insecurities unravel, potentially threatening all of Luke’s hopes and goals along the way.

The present storyline that is the main focus of the novel is interspersed with flashbacks to Luke’s troubled past, allowing the reader to get backstory on why Luke behaves the way he does, revealing more and more surprising information that builds palpable tension as the narrative wanes on. Garry succeeds at creating a complex story, interesting characters, and twists that will be sure to pull readers along for this tumultuous ride. The relationship between Luke and Lauren is multifaceted and brings a great amount of drama to the tale. The Illusion is perfectly titled, as many times throughout the story the reader is bound to ask themselves what is true and what is pure fantasy. To get to the bottom of who Luke truly is, and what he really wants, you’ll have to keep reading until the bitter end.


Living and Dying in the Rainbow Light by Jerri Blair

four stars

rainbowLiving and Dying in the Rainbow Light: Book III in the Lincoln County Law Trilogy by Jerri Blair switches back and forth between five different story lines. The book mainly focuses on the murder trial of defendant Mark Botto, who faces the death penalty for killing a beautiful young legal assistant. His lawyer, main character Elizabeth Shaw, is convinced he didn’t do it despite a good amount of evidence that makes it seem like he did. While the majority of the book centers around this case, the book also tells the story of Elizabeth’s days spent in a peaceful commune, Elizabeth’s fight to help a young juvenile delinquent named Ramone, the case of parents accused of murdering one of their twin girls, and Judge J.T. Lockman dealing with their daughter contracting AIDS. The different subjects the book delves into make for a memorable novel that touches on many controversial issues.

One of the most interesting things about this book is the way it explains some of the details of law that the average person wouldn’t know or even necessarily think about. It also goes into detail about DNA analysis and other scientific aspects of murder cases in a style that is never boring. The novel deals with the misogynism that a female professional had to deal with in the late 80’s and early 90’s in a small rural town, as well as the horrors of child molestation, racial and class prejudice, gay rights, and the stigma of AIDS. Although a few parts of the book feel unrealistic, such as the presence of a ghost in J.T. Lockman’s house, a detailed confession where you wouldn’t expect one, and the unbelievably perfect description of the early days of a commune, the majority of the novel feels like it could have really happened. From Elizabeth Shaw’s beauty and integrity to the very flawed murder defendant who insists he’s changed his ways, the characters are thoroughly developed. Because of this, the reader cares about them deeply. Overall, the storylines and characters are brought together in a way that make for a very enjoyable book.


This Can’t Happen Here by M.S. LaVoy

four stars

This Can’t Happen Here by M.S. LaVoy is about the kidnapping of four children from the idyllic town of Rivers Bend. Most of the people of the town prepare for and attend a sports festival where kids and teenagers compete in tournaments. On their way to the festival, two boys and two girls get into the car of a trusted adult friend. Little do they know, they are about to be taken away to a basement where criminals keep them against their will. The kidnappers have devious plans to sell them off to men in the Middle East to be used as sex slaves. The story tells of the investigation that follows the kidnapping, and how a surprise witness to the crime is able to not only help solve the case, but also help clear the names of the two men who accused of being responsible for this terrible crime.

The book opens describing the perfect town of Rivers Bend, telling of its hiking trails, places to hunt, sports teams and stadiums, and other things like a zero unemployment rate that make it a wonderful place to live. The way the town is depicted makes it seem almost unlike any other place in the country, but perhaps there really are towns that are so idyllic. When the children are kidnapped the reader is held in suspense, and will be sure to keep flipping the pages to see what happens next in the unfolding investigation, hoping that there will be a happy conclusion to the story even under such dire circumstances. This book is an intriguing tale of the diligence of the local police officers, the valuable observations of a local woman, and the struggle to bring home four children safely as well as bring the kidnappers to justice.


Well of Rage by Lynn Hesse


rageIt ain’t okay to be a woman. It ain’t okay to be black, Hispanic, or any other nonwhite race. And, it certainly ain’t okay to say or do anything that rattles the chains the good ole’ boys use to keep their way of living—and their secrets—locked firmly in place… It’s the year 2000, in Mobile, Alabama, and rookie police recruit Carly Redmund has just started her new job. The chips are already stacked against her, and most of her superiors are gunning for her career to end before it even begins. But Carly is strong-willed, sharp-witted, and ambitious, and she won’t give up or cave. Unfortunately, however, these attributes make her even more of a target during the course of her first big case, and soon enough, more than Carly’s career is put in jeopardy. When Carly is sent out on a “bones-found” case with a seasoned, jaded officer, the remains of a body aren’t the only thing that are unearthed. Carly’s concerns about the handling of evidence and coroner’s ruling set her on a behind-the-scenes investigation to discover the truth about what really happened to the decedent, an African American teenager who disappeared 26 years earlier. But, just as Carly is struggling to discover the truth, opposing forces are struggling to keep it hidden, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to keep their secrets safe—even if it means splattering Carly’s blood all over the thin blue line.

Well of Rage by Lynn Hesse is a riveting police thriller filled with drama and suspense. It carries readers on a fast-paced, intense journey for justice, where racism, sexism, crooked policing, political backscratching, and other forms of backward thinking and action are but a few of the obstacles standing in the heroine’s way. Though fiction, many of its pivotal plot points hinge on ugly realities that we, as a society, actually face, which poises Well of Rage not just as a “whodunit” in the typical sense, but also as a highly relatable, inspiring story of perseverance, overcoming challenges, and serving the greater good. An eloquently written and poignant piece, Well of Rage will keep you turning pages until the very end and leave you wondering what kind of troubling situation Carly Redmund will conquer next.


Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks

four stars

weaveJane Larson, a New York City lawyer, is enjoying a small break in between cases when her legal assistant, and long time acquaintance, asks her to take on a case as a favor. She reluctantly agrees and from there an action packed mystery unfolds, filled with danger, crime, and page-turning excitement. Jane is a sarcastic, quick-witted character that is sure to keep readers entertained as she deals with law enforcement, the media, killers, and much more. The authors did an excellent job at developing characters that will grow on the reader and filling this thrilling novel with an abundance of twists and turns.

This book is well written and flows nicely, making it very easy to dive into and enjoy for even the most casual of readers. The plot is complex and has all the elements that make for an attention-grabbing murder mystery. It starts out with high stakes right from the beginning, and quickly becomes a suspenseful thriller filled with plot twists, while introducing interesting characters that hold the reader’s attention. The narrative is told in first person, and Jane often reflects back as if she is sitting with you telling the story, which really pulls the reader into the book. Weave a Murderous Web is a fast-paced paged turner with an intricate murder mystery at its heart that will keep you guessing from the first page until the very end. You won’t want to put this book down!


Madness by T.M. Raymond

four stars

madnessMadness, by T.M. Raymond, is the second book in his No Sin mystery series. Set in the late twenties, the book begins as Zephyr Davies and his friend No Sin, a young Chinese man, return to the United States on the ship the Malolo, after a series of misadventures in China. Zephyr is not looking forward to settling into an office job, and No Sin is worried about being admitted to the U.S. as a citizen. Their worries are interrupted by a mysterious death on board, as Huey “Hatman” Arnold disappears without a trace from a cabin seemingly locked from the inside. Even more alarming, Zephyr finds his address with the accusation “Pervert” written in blood inside the missing man’s cabin. After Zephyr’s return to the states, his foray into the world of business is blessedly and unsurprisingly short, and he soon returns to his role as detective, helping Mr. Kaneshiro investigate an industrialist named Horace Willows, who seeks to encourage a war between Japan and China. Zephyr considers Willows a “spoiled, arrogant capitalist…a man who lazily wreaked havoc on the lives of those in his wake, simply because he could afford to.” At the same time, Zephyr tries to locate his old flame, Monica Marshall, who just might be trying to kill him.

Madness is a complicated story, with a series of riveting twists and turns that will keep the reader engaged from beginning to end. Raymond seeks to not only write a thriller, but also to engage with the widespread racism against Asians during this period in history. In this way, Madness offers something for both fans of mysteries and historical fiction. Both Raymond’s plot and writing are solid, although there are some occasional instances of overly florid description and some jarring, awkward language (such as partaked instead of partook) but these are minor issues. Madness is a good read, and fans will be glad to know there is more to come in this series.


By Hook or By Crook by Al Marsiglia

four stars

hookBy Hook or By Crook, a novel by Al Marsiglia, begins with a bang. Frankie Fiore, an ex-convict who served his time at the notorious prison on Rikers Island, wakes up to a phone call in the middle of the night that the narrator likens to a grenade being tossed through a window. The call he receives, unbeknownst to him at the time, will forever impact his future. His mentor and a current inmate at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Biff, also known as Aloyisius Rollo, reaches out in the hopes that Frankie will grant him a dying wish of sorts. As it turns out, Biff’s dying wish is for Frankie to look after his son, Marcus, who is seventeen and already ostensibly prone to trouble. The way that Biff “sweetens the pot,” as it were, is by promising Frankie a large cut of a million-dollar stash. Behind the scenes, an old foe of Frankie’s plots his demise and begins scheming ways to steal that newfound inheritance out from under his nose. Aptly named Jimmy “The Nose” Provitera, this local mob boss has it out for Frankie in the worst way for helping to land him in prison. As soon as he’s released from prison, he plans to murder Frankie and abscond with the fortune. Matters are further complicated when Biff dies before revealing to Frankie the exact location of the treasure. Armed with only a rusty key to a safe deposit box and with the help of Marcus, Frankie discovers the location of the old safe deposit box, but what’s inside is certainly not quite what he was expecting.

The suspense in By Hook or By Crook really matches up with the fervor of the title. No matter the obstacles in Frankie Fiore’s way, he manages to make it ahead, by hook or by crook, and, of course, he’s a former crook, so that pun rings even truer. The light and jovial manner in which the novel is written also lends itself well to the playful humor of the title: the way both the dialogue and the narrative are written makes the thick and endearing New York accents almost jump off of the pages. Every page presents a new and colorful way of looking at the intensely thrilling world that Frankie is the center of, and each character comes to life in a very real fashion throughout the story. Together, Frankie and Reno make for an extremely odd couple, but their relationship is so wonderfully captured that it’s possible to see them vividly together. Jimmy Provitera also bursts into life in a dichotomously contrasting way, as he serves as the direct foil to Frankie Fiore. By the end of the novel, it becomes apparent that the novel centers on the opposing forces of good and evil. Will evil prevail in the end? Will good finally balance the universe out and leave Frankie with an enormous fortune? It’s definitely worth the read to find out how the chips lie at the end of By Hook or By Crook.


The Price for Harmony by Jeffrey M. Thompson Jr.


priceJohn Marion Bradley, AKA Duke Bradley, AKA the best private eye in Akron, Ohio hasn’t had much of a break since he solved the murder of Karen Linford and things are starting to get a little stale in his office…not to mention that money is a little tighter. So, when the cold case murder of Harmony Bane, a mutilated transgender goth girl, comes across his desk, it is a hard case to resist, but maybe even a harder case to solve. Duke’s detective work and gut instincts take him and his beautiful FBI sidekick, Shriya Thakur, to places and persons of interest that the original investigators had completely missed. However, the deeper in that Duke and Shriya get, the more they find that things become darker, more opaque, and possibly even harder to unravel. While the days of classic private eyes and film noir may be behind us, Duke Bradley is still a mind to be reckoned with and a sight to be seen. Seeking out truth, justice, and cigarette money all while keeping his coconut-straw fedora clean, Duke Bradley has certainly earned the title of Private Eye. The Price for Harmony is a good, clean murder mystery if ever there was one. Throw in some corrupt politicians, a little relationship drama, and a few vampires and Jeffrey M. Thompson Jr. has your weekend plans covered– just order up a veggie pizza.

The Price for Harmony is extremely well-written and perfectly executed, with characters whose foibles make them relatable and lovable. The process by which Duke solves the mysteries he encounters is believable and, while his luck just does not seem to be getting any better, one can’t help but root for the underdog. Thompson will actually have you wishing for more murders, just to keep Duke Bradley Private Eye in business. Oh, and just in case you miss the plug for Storm Ketchum, he is a retiree turned secret detective and it is extremely inadvisable to miss out on his adventures.


Forever Bound by J.B. Millhollin

four stars

foreverPart thrilling court drama, part enthralling romance, Forever Bound by J.B. Millhollin follows the complicated story of determined defense attorney, Rosa Norway, as she attempts to juggle the murder trial of Angelo Bonaventura and her messy love life. The story begins before Angelo and Rosa cross paths, with the backstory of the murder that’s led Angelo to be tried by the Nashville District Attorney’s office. Chuck Harris, Angelo’s son-in-law, just so happens to also be his employee at Webber’s Furniture Store. Chuck has figured out a way to grift money from innocent, unsuspecting old ladies, and he’s certain that his menacing father-in-law will remain none the wiser. His assumptions prove fatal, as Angelo has him “taken care of” shortly thereafter. Fast-forward five months to when Rosa’s story begins. Rosa, in a fog post-drunken-night-out, edges her way out of an awkward situation with an ex. From that moment her feet touch the ground, she never quits running around trying to defend indefensible actions and manage multiple dalliances with lovers current and past. Among the key characters in her fascinating trials and tribulations are David, her prickly ex; Stoney, a handsome former lover and current business partner whose misdeeds land him in the worst sort of trouble; John Winstrom, another complicated lover with piercing blue eyes and a magnetic quality that keeps drawing Rosa back for more; and, of course, Angelo Bonaventura, a dangerous felon with a propensity for having bodies mysteriously pile up around him. It takes everything in Rosa’s power to maintain her composure and navigate her way through these murky waters.

Within the first few pages of Forever Bound, the story already explores the greyed out and blurry edges of morality with Chuck Harris’s being set up as the villain in the story—only to have him turn immediately around and wind up as the first victim on a long list of morally ambiguous, slain characters. Fans of true crime will delight in J.B. Millhollin’s adherence to the finest details as well as his engaging style and comfort with dialogue. Rosa’s character, in particular, has a captivating way of speaking and relating with everyone around her. Though it’s written in third-person omniscient, it feels as though the reader gets a unique glimpse into precisely the way Rosa is feeling in every scene. Her body language conveys the command she has of the rooms she enters, and she’s unafraid to confront all of the powerful men in her life—regardless of the consequences. All in all, Forever Bound by J.B. Millhollin paints a vivid and intriguing picture of life as a criminal attorney who has been forced to deal with deadly clients, less-than-trustworthy lovers, and personal matters that will bring her so close to the edge one would assume there’s no way she could come back. A page-turner from beginning to end, Forever Bound takes its reader captive and brings them on a journey with so many twists and turns they’re bound to get the most enjoyable kind of whiplash: the kind that comes from shaking one’s head at the nearly unbelievable events unfolding in the story.


End of 118 Days by Bob Rosborough


Bob Rosborough’s End of 118 Days is a suspenseful murder mystery. Officer Mitch Hampton’s wife died in a car accident while visiting him out of town while he investigated a serial killer, known as “the Thruway Killer”–the one serial he and his partner never apprehended. Ten years later Mitch has become a private detective with his own security and detective agency. Although he doesn’t usually take cases directly, a wealthy potential client approaches Mitch with an offer he can’t resist and he finds himself in the middle of another serial killer investigation. The crimes take place across New England and New York, so he is assigned a young, sexy, foreign, FBI agent named Anna Smokeen. After the death of his wife, detective Mitch Hampton has dutifully remained single, but now that his children have grown up and moved to England with his in-laws, he might have a second chance at romance. As the two embark on a road trip across the northeast in pursuit of the “New Moon killer”, they give in to the pleasures of new relationships (and local cuisine). Meanwhile, a mysterious club reconvenes for the first time in ten years. Could the mysterious organization, Mitch’s wife’s death, the Thruway killer, and the the current case all be connected? Will Mitch finally have the life he desires, or will the past destroy his chance at happiness?

Although the twists and turns of the novel are fun, they could have been better executed to create more suspense and to allow the climax of the novel to unfold more clearly. The characters could also use more development. Although it is obvious that Mitch would be sexually and romantically interested in Anna, it is unclear what the desirable Anna see in an older, chain-restaurant obsessed private investigator. The mystery club is one of the most interesting aspects of the book, but is under utilized. Between these issues with the plot and characterization, the contrived dialogue, and grammar and punctuation issues, the book leaves something to be desired. Generally the book has a good skeleton, but could have had better execution.


Silwan by Philip Graubart

four stars

silwanPhilip Graubart’s Silwan is that rare hybrid, a truly thrilling murder mystery and a thoughtful meditation on one of the most complex conflicts in recent history, that between Israel and Palestine. The main character is Judah Loeb, a crime reporter for the L.A. Times and author of a few true-crime books. Judah is twice divorced, with one fifteen-year-old daughter, Hannah, and trying desperately to stay relevant in a profession that is rapidly dying. When approached by an old college friend, Cliff Reynolds, an assistant to the secretary of state and a possible member of a “semi-secret” intelligence agency, to travel to Israel in order to write an investigative piece exploring why all attempts at peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians fail, Judah jumps at the chance. Judah, however, is not really interested in the assignment as much as he is interested in reconnecting with Ilana, his college girlfriend, now married to Moshe, Judah’s former college roommate. Moshe is an activist who spends most of his time defending Palestinians, particularly in the Silwan area, a Palestinian neighborhood on the fringes of old Jerusalem, the site of intense conflict, as more and more Israelis attempt to settle in the area.

Once Judah arrives in Israel, however, with his intrepid daughter Hannah, he quickly realizes there is more going on than some simple investigative journalism. Moshe is arrested for murdering a Palestinian boy whom he mentored, and Judah is drawn into the investigation and back into his obsession with Ilana, who still cannot, or will not, explain why she broke off their relationship so many years ago. Graubart’s story is intricate, and the many twists and turns will keep any reader interested in the story. Furthermore, Judah is an intriguing and empathetic character, one of Graubart’s strong points, and even apparently minor characters seem to spring from the page, fully formed. Graubart’s take on the Israel-Palestinian conflict is fascinating as well, but never heavy handed enough to distract you from the many mysteries Judah tries to solve. The ending of the novel will leave readers satisfied, but wanting more of Graubart’s skillful storytelling.


The Rising Tide of Migrants by M.V. Ezadeen

four stars

mvM.V. Ezadeen’s The Rising Tide of Migrants updates the traditional espionage thriller for the 21st century in a fast-paced, thrilling story of intrigue and terror. The story begins with worldly MI6 agent Jack Malaney enjoying a clandestine meal with fellow agent, Juliette. Their leisurely meal ends quickly, however, when Juliette attempts to kill Jack in order to keep him from interfering with her plans. Melany, of course, manages to outwit her in true James Bond style. Ezadeen’s story, however, is no mere Bond rip-off but an electrifying tale full of explosions and plot twists, told through the interconnected stories of a variety of characters. In addition to Melaney, readers are also witness to the stories of other agents, including Ryan Cervitti, working undercover in Italy as part of the European Union’s border patrol, and Alexa Cremieux, whom we first meet on the Ivory Coast, and who eventually ends up posing as a refugee in order to board the Zadeen, a decrepit cattle ship purportedly smuggling refugees into Italy. As Melaney and the other agents race to discover the true purpose of a series of well-orchestrated, but baffling, false flag attacks, Alexa realizes that Juliette’s plan is to infect the refugees on board the Zadeen with Ebola, then release them in continental Europe, creating over a hundred walking weapons of mass destruction. The story ends, appropriately, with a cliffhanger, as Alexa attempts to fend off Juliette and her agents, while Jack races to her rescue.

In addition to the main plot line, Ezadeen manages to inject a compassionate tone through the sub-plot of Jabir, a former child soldier in the Sudan, who, in his quest to protect his young sister, helps to quell one of the first attacks on his way to reuniting with his mother in Naples. Ezadeen subtly makes the case that terrorism is a result of inequality, and what is needed are less weapons and more basic human decency. As one of the many agents working to secure Alexa Cremieux’s safety says, “when you say in your laws that everyone has a right for a whole bunch of things, like shelter, education, work… then you can’t just say to others, that Okay, well, not for you man.” Ezadeen seems to be arguing that if the government worked as diligently to end human suffering as it does to infiltrate and neutralize terrorist cells, then there would be no reason for such terrorism in the first place. Ezadeen’s story is well told and well written, and readers will be eagerly awaiting what is sure to be an equally entertaining sequel.


The Stone Lantern by Samantha Stevens

four stars

When fifty-year old Jessie Bradford travels from San Francisco to Hawaii to settle her Uncle Rod’s multi-acre estate she thinks it will be a relatively easy process. Just decide whether to keep the property, lease it, or sell it and then hire someone to help her do that for the most money. But when an ancient burial tomb is discovered with forty year old remains inside, Jessie’s life is turned upside down and a process that she thought might take a couple of weeks ends up taking a couple of months. Detective Lieutenant John “Mac” McIntire knows as soon as he see the remains in the cave, with the skull bashed in, that he has a homicide on his hands. He also knows as soon as he sees the tarnished silver belt buckle on the skeleton, that the remains can belong to no one other than Allen Bradford, the father of his high school sweetheart, Jessie Bradford. As Allen Bradford’s secrets are slowly uncovered a cold case gets a little warmer and as Mac and Jessie reignite their relationship, who knows what will happen this summer in, The Stone Lantern.

Samantha Stevens’ novel is a fun journey into Hawaiian life and culture. Along with the enticing mystery of Jessie’s father and his mysterious death, Stevens provides a look into modern-day Hawaii and the struggles and successes that it faces. Stevens’ writing is straightforward, realistic, and enjoyable. The Stone Lantern is a murder mystery, romance, cowboy adventure, and is certainly well-worth the read.


The Black Mass by J.D. Fortier

four stars

blackThe Black Mass recounts the unfortunate mishaps that befall a young Canadian woman, Jenna Paxton. Tragedy, enigmatic encounters, and paranormal activity seem to follow Jenna wherever she goes. Luckily, she has her best friend, Andrea, to help her when times get particularly tough. One might think that having one husband mysteriously drop dead would be enough heartache to last a lifetime; Jenna has had two. First, her husband, Gary, dies suddenly of a heart attack, and shortly thereafter, her new husband, Brandon, disappears altogether. Suspicious circumstances, including but certainly not limited to a black mass hovering over the bodies, surround the two men’s deaths, which leaves Jenna shaken, confused, and ready to flee the country. She leaves for France, thinking that a new home will provide her with some shelter from her recent tragedies. Alas, she finds herself even more deeply embroiled in mystery when a strange, red-eyed man follows her around Paris. With the help of her closest friend and a French detective named Louis, she will try to follow the clues to lead her to the ultimate truth about the black mass.

If you’re at all interested in the supernatural, a dash of French culture, or getting to the bottom of a deep conspiracy, then The Black Mass may be the right book for you. At the root of the story, there is an element of the unknown with the mysterious red-eyed man who follows Jenna and threatens Andrea and the looming black fog that shows up at the most inopportune times, but the paranormal aspect is not so overwhelming as to turn off someone who prefers more realistic thrillers. The Black Mass is a quick read: one that’s worth picking up and not putting back down until you’re entirely finished.


The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods by Pat Camalliere

four stars

mysteryThe second installment in the Cora Tozzi Historical Mystery Series, The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods is an intriguing novel that combines two mysteries spanning two centuries in one engaging narrative. In the year 1817, we follow Wawetseka, a Potawatomi woman living in what is present-day Illinois, who discovers a dead body at the edge of her village. While this alone is alarming, the situation worsens when her only son is arrested, suspected of murdering the very victim Wawetseka discovered. The only way to prove her son’s innocence is to track down the real killer, causing her to start an investigation of her own, which leads her through the harsh wilderness, heading toward Fort Dearborn as she fights against the dangerous terrain. Two hundred years later, one of Wawetseka’s descendants, Nick Pokagon, teams up with Cora Tozzi, and her friends Cisco and Frannie to publish an account about Wawetseka’s journey. Shortly after Cora and company sign on to the project, they are viciously attacked by someone, or something, who doesn’t want Wawetseka’s story to be told. Readers are forced to wonder what this mystery from the past has to do with anything going on today, creating a suspenseful tale that is sure to keep the pages turning one after another.

By crafting a well-thought-out narrative that ties together two mysteries with unexpected parallels, Camalliere succeeds at entertaining readers with a suspenseful novel that will keep them guessing until the very end. Both timelines are well paced, and the characters are given a great deal of depth. It’s interesting to read about the northern Illinois wilderness present in Wawetseka’s story, and then see how the setting has changed over the centuries as we follow Cora around the streets of Lemont. Cora is a likable amateur sleuth, who uses her abilities and intelligence to try and crack the case, before it’s too late.


Choices: Volume II of the Lincoln County Law Trilogy by Jerri Blair


choicesThis stunning legal thriller begins in 1980 in Lincoln County, as we get to know J.T., an intelligent lawyer who is hard at work on another case. Before long, we come along a chapter that details an unnamed character who happens to be gay, who is aiming to hide his secret lifestyle, as he is a beloved public figure, who doesn’t want the truth to come out. A colorful cast of characters dominate the pages as this suspenseful murder mystery unspools on the page, when the public figure’s identity is revealed, and he is outed when charged with the brutal killing of his gay lover. As J.T. and his law firm take on this major case, he and his fellow lawyers learn the complexities of sexual orientation, coming to realize that being gay is not a choice, as the name of this novel suggests.

By tackling the challenges that come into play when we are forced to fight to protect our fundamental rights as Americans, author Jerri Blair creates a sensational thriller that is both engaging and well-written. As a lawyer herself, Blair clearly has a great understanding of the criminal justice system, and it shows from the realistic way this case is displayed on the page. By weaving scenes in the courtroom with personal scenes at home and out and about Lincoln County, the author paints a full picture of the small-town life in the south during the early 1980s, when the public perception of homosexuality was much different than it is today. A subplot referencing a hate-filled crime fueled by the controversial subject of abortion is also handled with great skill. By perfecting the pace of the novel, the revelations and twists come at just the right time throughout the book, always maintaining mystery, while answering questions and brining up new ones throughout the narrative. This is an expertly crafted thriller that is sure to keep your interest until the very end.


The Eighth Day by Harold Coyle

four stars

eightInspired by the 1961 political thriller, Seven Days in May, written by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey, The Eighth Day is a suspenseful journey that again pits the United States Army against the government in Washington D.C. However, this time, the stakes are changed, the story is more realistic, and the characters are more relatable. The novel kicks off with an incident on the border between Arizona and Mexico, where a skirmish between a US militia group  and members of a hostile drug cartel quickly escalates into a much bigger problem. The leader of the militia, a magnetic former Marine colonel decides the actions of this group of men, his actions leading to a constitutional crisis that soon brings the country to the brink of chaos. With little choice, the government follows a presidential order to send US troops to cease the actions of the militia, causing worlds to collide, as the various sides of the situation fight with all they’ve got to achieve what they want.

By perfecting his pacing, Coyle gives readers a intriguing military thriller that combines with elements of politics to create an excellent juxtaposition. With a varied cast of characters, and memorable personalities on each side, the chapters switch back and forth between locations, point of view, and plot lines. The novel succeeds at bringing everything all together, quick enough that the story is always churning forward, but giving each part of the narrative enough space to breathe so that characters can be well-developed, and situations can be thoroughly explained. In a time when our country is experiencing political difficulties across the board, this kind of thriller is sure to pique reader’s interest with it’s well-constructed story.


Still Wilde in Outlaw River by Mike Walters

four stars

still-wildePicking up where The Outlaw River Wilde left off, this second book follows the continuing adventure of Mitch Wilde, creating a supernatural tale that focuses on a small western town where strange happenings are running rampant. Still Wilde in Outlaw River begins when Mitch escapes the frying pan and is thrown into the fire, as he finds everyone he cares about in his humnble Oregon town of Outlaw River in peril. The mysterious forces that were present in the first book, causing disappearances and unnatural occurrences return in this thrilling novel, as Mitch struggles to figure out what is truly going on. The storyline follows other characters including Mitch’s wife Mabey, his old neighbor Jasper, and his best friend Jack Jenson. With everything from native americans, to aliens, and unforgettable characters filling the pages of the second novel of this duology, it’s hard to put this book down. Walters has succeeded at continuing the suspense and intrigue presented in his first book, and wrapping up all the loose ends with this engrossing tale.

Something that makes this book special is the fact that it combines an abundance of seemingly unrelated themes into one creative context. A lot of stories fail when pairing science fiction with western settings and ideology, but Walters uses a skilled hand when weaving the story together in Still Wilde in Outlaw River. His likable characters are the kinds that readers are sure to be rooting for, as they struggle to figure out what the hell is going on in their town, and ensure their safety as the pages continue to turn, with twists and turns at every corner. While the first book of the series leaves off with a dramatic cliffhanger, this book does a perfect job of wrapping up the adventure of Mitch Wilde and all the other residents of Outlaw River.


Sandler Krane, Private Eye by Stephen M. Kahn Ph.D.


privateSandler Krane, Private Eye follows the trials and tribulations of a former Marine turned hardboiled private investigator in the midst of World War II. In the wake of an unjust termination from the San Diego Police Department and a turbulent divorce, Krane has no choice but to pack up his life and relocate to Oregon. When a trifecta of crimes befalls one of Portland’s premier well-to-do families, the president of a large insurance company, Charles Borgmen, seeks out the help of a seasoned detective, our hero, Sandler Krane, to make sense of it all. At the intersection of fraud, gambling, and drug addiction, the Borgmens’ son, Edmund, winds up missing—with several targets on his head from various seedy underbelly types from the depths of underground, crime-riddled Portland. It’s up to Krane and his band of unlikely supporters and sidekicks to unravel this complex—and at times, harrowing—case to return Edmund Borgmen unharmed. Is he up to the task? Will the masterminds behind Edmund’s disappearance best him? Only time will tell.

Sandler Krane, Private Eye, much like its main character, narrator, and namesake, wastes no time in getting down to business. Within the first few pages, the central conflict has already been introduced, and Krane hits the ground running in an effort to solve the mystery. The largest overarching issue with this novel is that it relies heavily on exposition. If you’re willing to forgive a little expository dialogue, then the fast-paced nature of this detective novel will rope you in in no time at all.


Big Flies by Keith Hirshland


bigAfter Chester Daniel David, highly celebrated travel writer and hospitality critic, dies in an automobile accident, his son, Leland, is the heir to his prosperous estate. Among the late writer’s possessions are stacks of magazines hidden in an attic that suggest that his stories about his world travels were less than authentic. As Leland grew up, it seemed as if his father was never home. Leland begins to recognize that his father was not the man he thought he was and admits to himself he always felt like something was missing. Through his discoveries, Leland finds his father wasn’t merely missing a piece of himself, he was expertly hiding his true self. In a witty mystery that simultaneously follows the lives of the father and son, clues that Chester leaves behind point to notorious unsolved crimes committed within a fifteen-year span. As Leland unlocks the mysteries surrounding his father’s true life, he finds himself with even more unfathomable questions that he never anticipated asking about his family—and himself.

Told with humor through vibrant characters, Big Flies, draws you into the mischief and budding excitement of two young men discovering hidden taboo skills like mind control and cracking safes. Based in the beautiful and serene landscape of the Sierra Nevada, Hirshland brings the tale of two talented young men full circle. Each chapter brings an alternating point of view that can be jarring at times and make you wonder where you are in the story. Used as a storytelling mechanism, the frequent time jumps give the reader glimpses of what Leland will soon discover about his father, what he has already discovered about himself, and what is yet to come. With each page, the secret life of Chester Daniel David comes to light and we begin to get a glimpse of the man he really was and the man Leland hoped he had been. Big Flies offers readers a thrilling ride to self-discovery and a chance to solve a few of the biggest mysteries of the last century.


Bullet in the Blue Sky by Bill Larkin


bulletIn the chaotic aftermath of a major earthquake in Southern California, Investigator Schmitty of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department joins a team of detectives who are ordered to locate and rescue a missing detective named Shaw. Their superiors are cryptically vague with details, but are hellbent on the successful recovery of Shaw. The mission takes them through the dizzying war zone and the more they encounter, the more they wonder why they are searching for one man in these extreme circumstances. Why is this man so important to the deputy chief, and why now? They face rioting, looting, attacks and homicides while chasing down leads before Schmitty discovers that others, with high connections, are also after Shaw. When the team uncovers Shaw’s secret, it elevates the mission to a high-stakes race against time.

Bill Larkin wastes no time getting into the action in Bullet in the Blue Sky. Within the first few chapters, you are immersed in the violent aftermath of an earthquake that rocks Los Angeles to its core. Its officers show bravery, loyalty, and determination in the face a terrified city. Larkin captures the emotions of each character with deft precision. As the reader, you can feel the fear and adrenaline as the officers move through the city attempting to complete their task. Larkin’s attention to detail brings the mutilated landscape to life. Leaping off the page and dragging you onto the bloody trail leading to the elusive Shaw. Get ready for action-packed scenes and refreshingly well-developed characters. Pair that with his compelling storyline and you have the ultimate package. A must read for any thrill seeker.


Family Secrets by Cloud Kurtin

four stars

Detective Frank Wilson anxiously awaits a call to pick up Hans Bergman from the airport. His favorite history teacher back in Germany, Frank hadn’t seen Hans in thirty years. What begins as a wonderfully anticipated moment turns into a horrific scene when Frank responds to a robbery, only to find out that the dead victim is none other than Hans. One mystery leads to the next as Wilson and his detective partner Pete Hobbs go around in circles in their attempt to capture the evil perpetrator. All evidence seems to point to a Mafia group simply called “The Family.” But as the pair incorporates various tactics, they are in for a big surprise when they finally discover the real culprit.

Cloud Kurtin pens a story with an Abbott and Costello bent to it. Kurtin has created next generation detective duos that are quick on the draw. Minus slapstick, Kurtin’s short story is replete with all the nuances befitting a modern-day version of classic comedy routine. Kurtin’s plot is not only fast paced, but also quickly evolves into a chain of cumulative events that quickly gets complicated. Although readers will have no trouble connecting clues, Kurtin does throw in a few unexpected situations, which breaks up the monotony. Kurtin’s narrative has both a drawback and advantage. Because of the plot’s fast-moving scenes, this style of story writing is best appreciated not in book form, but as a TV or live stage act. That said, Kurtin’s comedic line of thinking offers great potential for present and future scripts that can be turned into live or on-screen performances. Family Secrets is a fun read and suitable to classic comedy aficionados.


The Port Fee by Garrett Dennis

four stars

portThe Port Fee by Garrett Dennis begins in a vein immediately reminiscent of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. In fact, the opening lines echo one another nearly exactly. At once, this kind of homage signals to the reader that he or she is in for an adventure of epic proportions. But we aren’t in the Gulf Stream. We’re in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and the diction of the piece makes it incredibly clear that our narrator has that sort of comfortable Southern drawl that every fantastic storyteller adopts when spinning a tall tale. Jovial small talk and some playful chiding give way to a darker conversation—and the beginning of the wild ride that this narrative takes from here on out. Two bloated bodies, seemingly divers who have “gotten themselves into some kinda trouble,” bob with the tide and alarm Ketch (Storm Ketchum, our hero), his children: Henry, Sally, Bean, and his wife, Suzanne. Mysterious coins found nearby spark young Henry’s imagination. Perhaps there’s something to his theory that this area of the Outer Banks serves as some sort of portal to another realm. Spirits, sea hags, ghosts, and ghouls: all manner of wildly fantastical monsters and critters dance across the stage of this narrative.

Explore this novel for yourself and prepare to be enthralled by its outrageous twists and turns and subtle endorsement of preservation. While it’s primarily a fantasy, The Port Fee has some very real underpinnings. Be sure to check out the previous two novels in this adventurous series that details the trials and tribulations of Storm Ketchum!


On A Sea of Lies by Sean Richards

four stars

seaThe first book in a planned series, On A Sea of Lies by Sean Richards tells the story of an inquisitive Air Force scientist by the name of Ken Davenport. The story begins when a commercial airline goes missing off the east coast of the United States for no explainable reason. The infamous Bermuda Triangle is not on the list of included searching places, which Ken cannot understand, especially since so many strange things have happened in the region. Taking matters into his own hands, Ken decides to try and find answers himself, heading to the Bermuda Triangle with a companion whose wife and daughter are missing. Drew Pearson joins Ken on his mission as they embark on a perilous journey to one of the most dangerous places on Earth, and what they find is far more grim than what they ever could have imagined. It’s not long before the two men are uncovering secrets and brutal regimes, causing their very lives to hang in the balance.

Coming in at nearly 600 pages, this is by no means a short book, but the thrilling pace at which Richards has plotted his story makes the narrative go by quickly, as twists and turns abound on nearly every page. With two multifaceted main characters who readers are sure to root for, this suspenseful novel uses the mysterious folklore behind the Bermuda Triangle to craft an interesting tale about secrets and intrigue. While at times the plot does get a bit heavy, and it likely could have been shortened to streamline the fascinating suspense that is often present, overall On A Sea of Lives is a promising start to what is sure to be a great series.


Death on a Desert Hillside by Gary George

four stars

desertGary George’s Death on a Desert Hillside is a fast-paced murder mystery, set in 1961, which follows Lieutenant Carlos “Horse” Cabellaro of the San Bernardino County Sherriff’s department and his investigation into the baffling deaths of Caleb and Eunice Clovis, found shot to death in their decrepit shack on the outskirts of Smoke Tree, a small town on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert. As Horse unravels the mystery of the Clovises last hours on earth, the reader is introduced to a variety of interesting characters, including “Chemehuevi” Joe Medrano, who helps Horse find the bodies while tracking a pack of feral dogs, and Willy Gibson, a man badly injured while serving his country during World War II, often the butt of some of the town’s worst elements, but fiercely defended and protected by Horse. In fact, while the reader wants to know who murdered the Clovises and why, the other characters and their stories are just as fascinating, such as the corrupt and violent local police force and a menacing peeping Tom, as well as a burgeoning romance between one of Horse’s deputies and a local schoolteacher.

George has not just written an interesting and captivating mystery, but created a place that readers will want to revisit. The town itself, and the surrounding sparse but intense beauty of the desert become almost another character in the story, and George’s descriptions of this setting are as compelling as the characters he has created. George’s creation, however, although beautiful, is not idyllic. He also engages with some of the darker elements of the setting, such as the effects of the wars of the not-too-distant past, through the characters of Horse, a Korean war vet, as well as characters like Willy. A subplot involving the racial tensions of Smoke Tree, populated by Latinos and whites, reveals the prejudices of the time and previews what will come to be a major focal point of the United States of the 1960s. How Horse and the residents of Smoke Tree will meet and deal with these issues is just one of many reasons the reader will look forward to returning to Smoke Tree time and again.


Keen Plot of Agent X by Eugene Balakirov

four stars

keenThe fourth book by author, Eugene Balakirov, Keen Plot of Agent X is a thrilling crime novel that follows Agent Knox as he tries to find the perfect balance between the Russian and American governments. By placing his main character in the real world, intertwining historical facts into his fiction, Balakirov weaves a thrilling tale of greed, power, corruption, and suspense. Agent Knox is the kind of agent who has experienced it all, everything from mobsters taking over cities, undercover operatives dragging him into dangerous situations, and powerful leaders using their leverage to get what they want, no matter the costs. When Knox gets involved with Cuban intelligence, and gets pulled into a web of deceit that may just end up resulting in the kind of quagmire he can’t escape, he has to use his wit and intelligence to figure out a solution to his dire problems.

The way that Balakirov writes is in an engaging, fast-paced style that will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. By constructing dynamic characters, using well-research historical facts and anecdotes, and placing realistic dialogue throughout his narrative, the story of Keen Plot of Agent X comes fully alive on the page. This is the kind of thriller that will keep you guessing from beginning to end, as you try to figure out the many twist and turns that come along Agent Knox’s complicated journey.

Dark Money by Larry Thompson


Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 12.51.53 PMDark Money is a fascinating tale of dirty money, power, and an effort by an against-the-government group called the Alamo Defenders. Author, Larry D. Thompson, weaves back and forth between former Army man, Jack Bryant, law enforcement officers, the head of the Alamo Defenders, Colonel Van Zandt, and his daughter. Miriam Van Zandt followed her daddy’s orders and killed a local billionaire and seriously wounded the governor of Texas during a fundraiser. Once the law finds her, they face the difficult challenge of arresting her inside her father’s compound. Van Zandt has used his own dirty money to accumulate a ton of illegal firearms, and he has no intention of letting anyone stop him. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg and only one piece of the story. When Van Zandt’s compound is invaded and Miriam is ultimately taken into custody Thompson’s Dark Money takes quite a different turn.

Larry Thompson does a great job keeping readers intrigued in the story as it continues to evolve. New characters show up as well as some falling away, but this unique aspect of Dark Money keeps readers turning pages. It is a very well-written story with underlying issues for many of the characters. For example, Sergeant Walt Frazier Jr., who is a key character throughout the story, has PTSD, and this shows up in numerous ways. Thompson’s ability to add such depth and sub-stories makes for a compelling read. And, not to be overlooked, the descriptiveness of the scenes flow elegantly allowing the reader to see clearly what is happening from one moment to the next. Thompson avoids gory scenes and heart-stopping moments that make readers need to leave the light on. Instead, he’s written a thriller that’s packed with mystery and intrigue and will make the gears of a reader’s mind spin. Dark Money is exciting, yet is also a great book to curl up with and enjoy the paradox of a relaxing thriller.


Miller’s View: The Case of the Blue Diamonds by Marlene W. Potts

four stars

viewMarlene W. Potts third novel in the crime thriller series about Detective Jonathan Miller is action packed and filled with mystery with a dose of fantasy. Detective Miller’s cunning deduction skills and boundless energy propel the narrative as he and his team attempt to trace the blue diamonds and the corrupt group that uses the diamonds for their evil agenda. At the heart of the story is Detective Miller’s love interest Callie, whose pure heart acts as a guiding light for the Detective during the most harrowing moments in the novel. As the two become closer and begin to plan their lives together, Callie comes into harms way as a tool to lure Miller towards danger. Their love is steadfast throughout the adventure but threats to their lives loom above their heads as the novel closes with unfinished business with the evil characters.

Potts’s narrative is mysterious and adventurous, if at times closely following what could easily be an episode of a crime drama. Although there is no court drama and a murder is not central to the overall story, the plot line follows the stereotypical crime novel. The novel does, however, provide interesting commentary on said crime genre by showing the unique role love, friendship, and family play in the lives of both law abiding detectives and, in this version, corrupt diamond smugglers. Potts is also able to navigate an impressive and diverse cast of characters in a way that the reader can easily follow. Fans of Detective Miller will find this installment in the series exciting while the cliffhanger suggests that there is more evil for him to find and root out.


Cold Call by Michael Donovan

four stars

In the newest installment, London PI Eddie Flynn is drawn into the hunt for a killer copying a serial killer. The same serial killer he investigated seven years ago when working as a police detective. That killer was almost caught before Flynn lost him ensuring the loss of his job and reputation. A detective too close to work the case seeks out Flynn for his expertise and case experience. Together they embark on a dangerous investigation of their own. Flynn has a hunch that the copycat signature is an attempt to disguise the true motive for the most recent crime. Through a series of twists and turns, the sordid details come to light and begin to form the big picture. His hunch proves to be correct, but the new killer doesn’t appreciate the unofficial investigation and turns his focus on Flynn. Will Flynn be able to catch the killer before it’s too late? Or will this be the last case for London PI Eddie Flynn?

Michael Donovan has a created a masterful series with a compelling Cold Call is an intricate case study of how the human psyche is affected when faced with the most heinous crimes. PI Eddie Flynn finds himself pitted against a ruthless killer, who is happy to provide collateral damage just to make a point. Michael Donovan expertly weaves a tale of mystery and suspense. Each chapter leaves you wanting to read the next. Waiting to see what will happen to the characters we have come to love (and hate) is not an option. If you haven’t been introduced to Eddie Flynn yet, be prepared. Author Michael Donovan will keep you on the edge of your seat till the end.


Sacrifice by John Blenkush


sacIn the continuing saga of Julissa Grant and Aaron Delmon, sixteen-year-old Julissa learns from Officer Scheeler that Louk Hollingsworth has been murdered, and that he is certain Aaron is responsible for Louk’s death. While tension builds with others feeling the same negativity toward Aaron, Julissa learns more about Aaron and his ties with the ancient Lemurians as they draw nearer one to another. When Julissa finds out that she’ll be leaving California and moving back home to Minnesota, she knows it’s time to climb the treacherous Mt. Shasta with Aaron—but at what cost, especially when they’re hit with a whiteout?

John J Blenkush pens an engaging story of sorrow, courage, and learning how to love by overcoming fear in the second book of his Solstice Series. The author of the critically acclaimed thrillers, Reddition and Stacy’s Story, Blenkush’s first person narrative features a young woman (Julissa) who is desperately trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life after the disappearance of her father on Mt. Hood. Amid hardship, Blenkush tightly weaves Julissa and Aaron’s slow-building relation within an engaging plot. Replete with a well-developed quasi-dystopian cast, Blenkush manages to throw in light-hearted moments, such as Julissa’s snarky attitude toward Officer Scheeler’s nagging investigative questions, and Julissa’s friendship with her sex-driven neighbor, Cherrie. Of course of key interest—aside of Julissa and Aaron’s budding romance, Blenkush spends a great deal of time incorporating within his plot historical information about the mysticism behind Mt. Shasta, the lost city of Telos, Mu (the cradle of mankind), and the Lemurians’ connection with another lost city: Atlantis. Blenkush keeps his story constantly flowing by combining all of the above-mentioned literary elements, as well as including un-hackneyed scenarios and cliff-hanging chapter endings. Earmarked to be a five-book epic tale, the Solstice Series offers fantasy romance aficionados a unique and unforgettable storyline.


Craved by Lola Smirnova

four stars

cravedIn the second book of the Twisted series, Julia and her two sisters, Natalia and Lena, move to South Africa on a friend’s advice. There they work in a strip club, which is tame compared to their old lives as prostitutes. Julia is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who has recently left rehab. Although she is now clean and sober, she is surrounded by temptation and haunted by painful memories of being raped. When Julia has trouble making enough money stripping, she begins to sell sex for money again. Eventually Natalia, Julia’s business-savvy and bold sister, convinces her to get breast implants, while also providing guidance that gives Julia more confidence. Julia becomes more successful at work, eventually earning a high-profile client, named Saad who buys her a luxurious apartment and car. Meanwhile, Julia’s sister Lena seems to have it all and marries a loving man, but when she has trouble getting pregnant, she blames herself turns to drugs. When the girls’ father dies, Natalia and Julia decide to go home to Ukraine, but they can’t find Lena. They call her husband and learn that she has gone missing. Eventually Lena contacts Julia, asking for money. During their meeting, Lena reveals some harsh information about Julia’s rape leaving her confused and hurt. Julia throws money at Lena and leaves, not caring about how the money is used. From then on Lena is in and out of rehab. The book then jumps forward three months. Julia is living in her apartment with Saad and feeling dissatisfied. One morning she goes to the bathroom, where she finds a bag of cocaine that must have been Lena’s. She uses the cocaine and the story ends, leaving readers to wonder what will happen next.

Craved explores the lives of sex workers without judgment, but also without concealing the less-glamorous parts of their job. It also doesn’t shy away from the dangers these women face every day. The book’s attractive and enticing cover is a perfect fit and accurately represents the story. Although the plot becomes a bit melodramatic, Craved is a fast-paced and entertaining read that will take most readers well outside of the comfort zone of their day-to-day activities and the book’s cliffhanger ending will leave you craving more.


Mister Rainbow in the Case of the Morgue the Merrier by C. S. Boag


morgueBertie Thomas has found himself in a bit of trouble, more like a lot of trouble. The kind of trouble you can’t come back from. He has been linked some terrorist activity and is looking for a way out. Terrorists want to recruit him but he’s too terrified to oblige. Instead, he calls in Rainbow who finds himself in the thick of an affair that threatens to end in a bloodbath. Can Rainbow prevent it? Will his gorgeous former girlfriend help or hinder his mission? Is Babychino – the beautiful dame who suddenly be bops into his life, complete with equaliser – all she’s cracked up to be? And what’s happened to his daughter Imogene? As Rainbow wades deeper into the mire, the case assumes what his Aunt Rube calls the color of memory: indigo, or should that be indiquo or indicio? One thing’s for sure the morgue has never been busier.

C.S. Boag has done it again with his newest detective thriller in the Rainbow series. Written with deft humor and a witty turn of phrase, this latest installment sends Rainbow into the bowels of Sydney to stumble his way to the truth. Rainbow falls into all heaps of trouble along the way to help a young man get out of trouble. Boag’s characters and plot are developed with humor and convincing action that bring the reader along through the gripping storyline. With his quirky sense of humor, Boag leaves the reader wondering what will happen next and who will be responsible. Knowing that Rainbow is on the case means that the ride will be exciting and funny.


The Deception People by Réal Laplaine


peopleThere are hundreds of conspiracy theories circulating around the world. The CIA owns Facebook, China is building a replica of Washington D.C. in the desert, and the FBI created fake snow and spread it across the South are all real theories. In The Deception People, author Réal Laplaine blends political conspiracy theories into a creative novel. Troy Evans is arrested and placed in psychiatric care after reporting a terrorist threat he discovered while having an out-of-body experience. With the help of a beautiful psychiatrist it is soon discovered the terrorist plot is real, and it originated within America’s government. Now he must fight against time and disbelief to stop the plot, if he can get anyone to listen.

Creativity is what makes this novel so interesting. Blending 9/11 conspiracy, paranormal phenomena, and government intrigue creates a unique story. Unfortunately the creativity gets lost due to technical issues and mediocre writing. Missing words make sentences difficult to understand, and leave the reader going back to the same sentences several times to try and discern what the author is saying. Unnecessarily complex words are also used as a way to make the writing more intellectual. Words and phrases like “recalcitrance” and “bespeak of her true age” are thrown in at random and do not match the otherwise simplistic writing. What the author excels at though is crafting dialogue. Conversations between characters are believable and move the story forward. The reader can easily imagine sitting in a room witnessing discussions between government officials. The Deception People puts forth a unique story, and if the reader can persevere through technical issues they will be rewarded with a few hours of enjoyment.


Fatal Alliance by Elizabeth Farris


allianceA world of decadence, luxury, and romantic encounters awaits in Elizabeth Farris’ Fatal Alliance. Jake, a young man with failed football dreams and an empty bank account, becomes reunited with a college friend whose financial success is enough to turn anyone’s head. BJ, the entrepreneur, carries Jake with him back to his abode in New Orleans to bring him on as his Head of Personal Security. Their bond continues to flourish as Jake becomes a stellar employee and friend while BJ provides the lavish toys and amusement. What Jake doesn’t know is BJ’s obsession with asphyxiating women for pleasure, and the trail of bodies he’s left. As the two become closer and more successful together, an alliance is formed- an alliance which Jake, once he learns the truth, will have to decide whether or not to betray.

Fatal Alliance is an accessible text with clear diction and an eye for titillating details. It successfully weaves sensitive romance alongside graphic sexual scenes, ideal for reaching audiences of different desires. It combines a love story with a mystery, a violent tale with a romance. However, Farris’ Fatal Alliance features very little character development and follows many of the common tropes found in today’s detective literature. The plot line is simply constructed and easy to follow, but simultaneously devoid of complexity and deeper intrigue. Elizabeth Farris’ novel is a quick read, sure to satisfy the casual reader looking to be tossed into an unreachable world of starry opulence and dashing men and women.


Backfire by James L. Griffith


backfireStories of government spying conspiracies used to be outlandish, until Edward Snowden and other scandals revealed what occurs far from the public’s eye. Backfire by James L. Griffith is one of these stories, a thrilling conspiracy by the NSA to spy not only on agencies of the US government, but foreign governments across the world. Any who come close to the truth, or those on the inside who threaten to expose it, are ruthlessly murdered by the shadowy agents of the NSA. John T. Parker, a highly experienced and skilled FBI agent slowly becoming out of place as an aging field agent in a world of technology focused intelligence gathering, is originally tasked with rooting out a mole selling secrets from the FBI. But as bodies began to pile up around him, it soon becomes clear to him that the last secret sold by the mole was something that assassins from both the NSA and the Chinese are willing to kill countless innocents for. And while the far reaching espionage technology of the NSA gives them a dangerous advantage, they may have underestimated the simple tenacity and brutal efficiency of an agent like John T. Parker.

Backfire’s protagonist John Parker is more of an action hero than a spy, often leaving him out of place in the intrigue and espionage that drives the plot. And yet Parker, a rugged military veteran and field agent who scorns the notion of desk jobs, provides the perfect contrast to the faceless, overreaching spying performed by the NSA and their unaccountable agents. Parker provides an excellent figure in heated action scenes, including multiple assassination attempts by spies both foreign and domestic, and an exciting helicopter chase. However, much of the spy intrigue is left to other characters, who often do not have enough time on the page to become interesting, if they survive at all. And because of all the set up necessary to explain the NSA’s conspiracy and how it gradually comes crashing down, Parker has little time at all on the pages for much of the novel’s beginning. Furthermore, much of the intrigue of the conspiracy is lost behind the dry exposition of the technical details that made the NSA’s vast spying network possible. The fast moving action of the novel’s latter half feels at odds with the slow burning spy plot of the beginning. And while the broad reach of the NSA and the Chinese attempt to use their spying technology provides an interesting concept, any exploration of the broader consequences of their actions are lost in exchange for the action of the climax and a simplistic resolution. Ultimately Parker’s rugged charm can only do so much to redeem the dry, if admittedly realistic, details of technological espionage.


Guarding Shakespeare by Quintin Peterson


shakeGuarding Shakespeare by Quintin Peterson is a novella that follows Lt. Norman Blalock after he is made an offer he cannot refuse. He has dedicated twenty-five years of his life to The Folger Shakespeare Library, and has been passed up for promotion for the second time. A femme fatale and professional thief introduces Norman to a criminal fat cat. The collector offers Lt. Blalock a million dollars to steal an artifact from the museum’s vault. Not too long after, he is made a second offer, also for stealing something of value. Norman must choose between two more than generous offers, but he feels there is more to the story, and that he is being played for a fool.

The most beautiful part of Guarding Shakespeare is the immense amount of detail and history pertaining to The Folger Shakespeare Library, and Shakespeare’s own history, that Peterson weaves into this novella. When reading, you feel as though you’re standing in the library yourself, looking around at each room. The novella is a thriller, yet it offers exquisite detail and information that you will carry with you forever. The most interesting part of Peterson’s novella is that you never know what to expect from any of the characters. The fat cats offering millions of dollars for their respective items seem to have ulterior motives, but you are never sure what they are. The professional thief that acted as liaison between Lt. Blalock and the collectors is not exactly trustworthy either. As Norman goes through the story, you are never really sure if he is being duped, or if he is the one that will be doing the duping. This thriller has the perfect combination of crime, mystery, and action, and you won’t be able to turn the pages of this captivating novella fast enough.


Valley of Long Shadows by John Hansen


valleyValley of Long Shadows is the third book in the Bluesuit Chronicles. It is a historically accurate account of police work in the early 1970s, a transitional decade, when America is coming apart at the seams both politically and socially. The chronicles are based on actual events of the time, making the series a kind of fictional memoir of the author, who was a police officer at the time. Returning Vietnam veterans who become police officers find themselves holding the line against societal anarchy and even traditional roles between cops and robbers in police work has become more deadly. Intense conflict between unseen influences of good and evil are evident in every sphere of American life. The book carries strong themes of real-life, fast-paced action, romance, mystery, and intrigue at the end of an era filled with government betrayal, corporate failure, an angry and disillusioned public. The 70s is the decade that brought America to where it is now.

Author John Hansen is at it again with the third installment in the Bluesuit Chronicles. We find the characters thrust into increasingly dangerous situations while trying to navigate the social fabric of 1970s Americas. Roger Hitchcock has made connections with the people around him and has found his footing in this new world. A world where almost everyone seems to only look out for themselves. Told from a first person perspective, the author dives straight into the human aspect of the events in Vietnam and how they are affecting the soldiers coming home. This poignant portrayal of one man’s transition into civilian life is a powerful reminder of what every soldier must go through upon their return from active war zones.


Flight of No Return by Mike Paull


flightFlight of No Return is the third and final book in the Brett Raven Trilogy written by Mike Paull.  From the moment a reader’s eyes make contact with the prologue, he or she won’t be able to put the Flight of No Return down.  Paull kicks off this final book in the series with a murder in a New York City hotel room.  Readers quickly come to realize that Raven’s wife has been kidnapped by her former husband and Raven’s former business partner.  JT Talbot wants his money back – the money he stole from the insurance company and Raven stole back to return to the rightful owner.  Talbot devises a plan to kidnap Annie, Raven’s wife, and threaten the lives of their unborn twins if Raven doesn’t comply or involves the police.  Raven is forced to fly his private plane to odd places and across the country, but avoiding police involvement is nearly impossible.  Raven calls upon his old friends to help him try and save Annie and avoid the police, but in doing so he puts himself in a precarious situation that is downright illegal.  At one point he even lands in jail for a few hours, but he has to decide whether or not working with the NYC detectives will help him or further endanger his wife and babies.

Mike Paull gracefully moves the story back and forth over the course of about a seven month period to help readers see a bigger picture of how and why the kidnapping took place.  He dives into the emotions and soul deep reasons as to why Talbot wants revenge on Dr. Brett Raven, but he also makes it easy to grasp that Talbot isn’t likely a violent man.  Readers will experience a wealth of curiosity as the puzzle pieces of Flight of No Return begin to come together, but there will only be little fear for Annie’s or the babies’ lives.  An absolutely intriguing suspense, Flight of No Return, is written in a way that will keep readers minds swirling and engaged while feeling an emotional connection to nearly all of the characters.  Whether or not one has read the first two books in the Brett Raven Trilogy, Flight of No Return will pull them in and expand their hearts and minds with an entertaining and relaxing read.

The Trieste Intrigue by George McNulty


treisteGeorge McNulty has taken real life people along with history and crafted an intricate and gripping book in The Trieste Intrigue. Set during the early 1980s when President Ronald Reagan was in office, Colin McHugh, McNulty’s main character, risks his life in an effort to save the life of Pope John Paul II. McHugh may have been sent on a special mission by the President Reagan, but he isn’t a highly trained operative. He is instead a successful international businessman. He doesn’t have the training to pick up on the trained assassins who have spotted him, and who are quickly on his trail. Yet, it doesn’t take him long to realize that they are out to kill him. He turns to Claudette, his soon-to-be girlfriend, for help, but eventually her help puts her in danger as well. As the story unfolds, readers can easily become immersed into McNulty’s scenes and truly feel the anger of the killers as well as the fear and stress of McHugh. There is anxiety and tension til the very end, which keeps readers anxiously turning pages.

Often people wonder what might really must have been going on behind closed doors or how informants got their messages to the necessary people – especially in events and organizations where secrecy is a matter of life or death. In The Trieste Intrigue, George McNulty offers readers a boost in the imagination department when it comes to conspiracy and secret agents for the government. The story has a very realistic feel to it with greatly detailed scenes as well as characters. Reading The Trieste Intrigue will make readers wonder if this could be much closer to the truth than they realize. McNulty writes in a way that helps readers bridge the gap between reality and fiction in their minds. With such a skillfully written story, which is directly related to a globally recognized hisotrical event, it easy to say that George McNulty hit a home run with The Trieste Intrigue.


The Murder of Sherlock Holmes by David Fable


For decades upon decades the mysteries involving the famous Sherlock Holmes have captivated readers and fans. Now, David Fable has crafted a story that will have Sherlock Holmes’ fans salivating for the answers to his untimely demise in The Murder of Sherlock Holmes. His dear friend, Dr. John H. Watson is distraught with grief, but finds it is up to him to solve the heinous murder. What Dr. Watson doesn’t expect is young Christopher Hudson stepping in and offering highly plausible possibilities to how the murder happened and who brought it about. Surprising events run rampant throughout Fable’s The Murder of Sherlock Holmes from unexpected beneficiaries to Holmes’ will to odd requests and behaviors from his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. One minute Fable has the reader believing the murder was ordered by Moriarty, but the next moment the twists and turns in the plot have one wondering if that was really possible. After all, Sherlock Holmes has secrets far beyond what Watson or Hudson could have ever dreamed.

David Fable will keep readers on the edge of their seats and hurriedly turning pages as they anxiously move through The Murder of Sherlock Holmes. The secrets that are brought into the light are so skillfully unveiled by Fable, causing shocks that draw readers in continuously. By sharing viewpoints from both Watson and Hudson periodically throughout the book, Fable helps readers gain a deeper understanding of each of these key characters’ emotions and personality traits. With such a great number of possible answers and hidden truths, The Murder of Sherlock Holmes is a must read for all Sherlock Holmes’ fans. David Fable truly pulls back the curtain and offers a unique view into Holmes’s life as well as his personal mysteries, which are just begging to be solved.


Memphis Hoodoo Murders by Kathryn Rogers


hoodooAddie Jackson is not your average college student. For starters, she lives with her slightly odd grandparents in a not-so-nice part of Memphis, Tennessee. Most of her life revolves around taking care of her grandparents and trying to keep a low profile in her neighborhood instead of going on dates, talking about new music, and having fun. When her grandparents’ behavior becomes even more bizarre, there are break-ins at the church the family attends, and she begins to have dreams that come true, Addie becomes even more aware of the strange life she is living. She begins to believe that her grandparents have been hiding something from her for her entire life, something big, something that could put everyone’s lives in danger. Something that could mean that Hoodoo magic is real.

Kathryn Rogers’ novel, Memphis Hoodoo Murders, immediately catches the reader with an exciting title and a surprising first chapter. While the plot of the novel keeps the reader turning pages and hoping for the best, characters are surface-level, dialogue feels forced or even boring, and comas are frequently misused. The plot of Rogers’ novel creeps along slowly and even climatic events leave something to be desired. While Addie is a college student who has been living a full life, she has the emotional and mental depth of a student entering high school. The story simply never takes off or really sweeps away the imagination, despite the big potential that it has. Memphis Hoodoo Murders simply leaves you wishing for more.


The Mystery at Sag Bridge by Pat Camalliere


bridgeCora Tozzi is a retired professional who has just finished nursing her mother through her final illness and into the next life. She wishes only for a peaceful orderly world in her suburban Chicago home. When an angry spirit begins to leave cryptic messages on her computer and threatens those around her, Cora is forced to dig into the town’s notorious past to uncover secrets that will free the bonds that tie her and the spirit. With the help of her husband and their friend, Frannie, Cora uses her skills as an amateur historian in a search that takes them into unexpected territory fraught with danger and peril. As they battle unpredictable supernatural powers, the story takes a poignant turn: the spirit’s life is revealed, and both women, a century apart, examine threads into the past and the future, their loss and longing linked across generations.

Told with storyteller’s craft The Mystery at Sag Bridge is fiction at its best. Rich landscapes and a world steeped in mysticism brings the world lushly to life. Written from Cora’s point of view, the story moves from past to present giving the reader a sensation of being pulled back and forth in time. Camalliere has created a compelling narrative with complex characters. Revealing how two women relate to their families, friends, and the community around them. Cora’s depth of character growth throughout the book is a testament to Camalliere’s skill and writing prowess. Whatever you are looking for in a good read, you will a little bit of everything in The Mystery at Sag Bridge.


The Outreach Committee by C.L. Woodhams


The Outreach Committee: Because Marriage Can Be Murder is a gripping tale that will make you think long and hard about the morals, values, and consequences of domestic violence. C.L. Woodhams grabs you not by the arm but by the heart from the first few pages as she immerses you into Mora Rey’s fearful experience that leads her to relief and hope. However, this experience also leads her to murder. As Mora chooses to help other women and victims of domestic abuse, she makes some shocking choices. In fact, through the new chief advisor to the financial committee of her organization, Battered Women’s Escape Foundation, comes to a point that he threatens to bankrupt them, readers will likely wonder if The Outreach Committee and the BWEF are morally bankrupt already. Furthermore, what will happen when one of the abusive husbands ends up still alive instead of succumbing to an attempt on his life? To top it off the members of The Outreach Committee became acquainted with, and eventually become friends with a police officer, who was a former abused wife. The big question in this relationship is will she cover for them if she discovers the truth?

C.L. Woodhams shares a variety of perspectives and experiences from numerous characters in The Outreach Committee: Because Marriage Can Be Murder. In sometimes exceptionally short chapters, Woodhams will help a reader explore the thoughts and feelings of abusers as well as the women, whom they supposedly love. Though many chapters are brief, a reader should be prepared for the long haul as The Outreach Committee is quite a long novel, but even once one reads the final words he or she will continue to wonder just what might happen next. A very well-written fictional novel, The Outreach Committee hits home and easily pulls back the curtains of what might actually happen in abusive situations of wealthier men and women. Most people know someone who has been, or is being abused whether or not the truth is out in the open. Therefore, Woodhams book offers a profound opportunity to understand the psychology of both sides even better while making a reader ponder what justice might really look like.


The Red Sapphire Secret by BJ Winters


BJ Winters has created an anomaly in The Red Sapphire Secret. Not only does Miranda Paige St. James Turner have psychic abilities, which enable her to touch an object and see what may happen in the future or has already happened in the past, but she is exceptionally old fashioned when it comes to romantic relationships. To top it off, there really is no such thing as a red sapphire, as red corundum is always called ruby. A red sapphire is not so much an anomaly as calling one so, instead of saying it is a ruby. In the book, there is a mysterious connection between the red sapphire and Rosemund Collier. Yet, there is far more to Rosemund Collier than meets the eye. Numerous stories embedded within the same overall story, The Red Sapphire Secret involves a serial killer, the utter upheaval of more than one family, and the gently old-fashioned courting between Miranda and Lt. Jonathan Dean. Mysterious twists and turns run rampant in this story. If a reader can keep track of all the different characters and leaps and jumps in the writing, he or she will ride side-by-side along quite a few characters as they come to learn the truth about Rosemund and Howard Clifton Collier as well as Ray, the serial killer.

The Red Sapphire Secret is a confusing story that is often hard to follow. One simple example happens early on when Jon sees Miranda in the hallway in the police station. As he is thinking about how attracted he is to her, the story jumps to saying he sent a note to her. But, how did he send her a note that she suddenly reads? There are a number of holes in the story and individual scenes throughout the book. Unfortunately, Winters’ writing style in The Red Sapphire Secret can lead to a wealth of confusion. The story itself also seems unbelievable at times as Rosemund is said to be quite eccentric, but she quickly invites Miranda to her home to inventory the property. Overall, Winter’s story is satisfactory, but it lacks the depth to fully engage readers with the characters and it lacks the eloquent flow to help readers relish in an entertaining story of mystery, murder, and love.


The Victim by Eric Matheny


Any good crime thriller requires precision writing along with a protagonist worth caring about, and Eric Matheny’s superb character study, The Victim, fits the bill. Opening with a verse from the Book of Matthew, the narrative immediately kicks into full gear as two Arizona crash victims find themselves in flames while a man scampers away. Years later, Anton Mackey enjoys a comfortable life as a Miami-Dade County criminal defense attorney, however temptation and opportunity ultimately lead him down a road of personal self-destruction, all because he couldn’t fess up to his original sin and keep his “member” locked up. As fate would have it, a certain someone is on the prowl, and the lawyer must confront his inner demons to escape with a little bit of dignity, if any at all.

There’s much to enjoy within the pages of The Victim, as Matheny’s flawless writing and attention to detail lends an incredible amount of realism to the story. After all, Matheny is, in fact, a Miami defense attorney, and according to the acknowledgements, a former frat boy as well, which seemingly explains Anton’s superhero strengths during moments of distress – you know, fighting off Miami gang members and beating up a member of a West Coast biker gang. Even so, this is a work of fiction, and such antics reveal plenty about the egocentric character. Incidentally, it’s both intriguing and troubling how Anton references a “baby mama” and “auntie” every time he discusses African-American criminals, however the author brilliantly creates a sense of time and place through Anton’s conversations with friends and possible foes. Sure, a few cases of heavy exposition telegraph the obvious, but Matheny manages to keep the reader guessing with slick twists and engaging character dialogue. Given the author’s undeniable talent, a continuing Anton Mackey series should definitely be in the works.


An Evil Legacy by David Mallett


The story of Jack the Ripper is one that continues to hold the imagination. The human mind seems to be equally repulsed and horrifyingly intrigued by death, gore, and unsolved murders. Therefore, it is no surprise that when Detective Chief Inspector Alex Packard is given the opportunity to identify Jack the Ripper and finally put the case to rest, he jumps to take it. David Mallett’s novel, An Evil Legacy, chronicles Alex’s investigative journey as he tries to piece together the evidence, both physical and verbal, in Jack the Ripper’s case. However, after Alex catches his philandering wife with another man, again, he finds himself in a downward spiral. After making some rash decisions, he ends up in the hospital with a bullet in his leg, a shattered femur, a growing addiction to drugs, and a desperate need to find the international criminal, Michael Coglin. As Alex’s mental state deteriorates, the line between reality and delusions becomes blurred and it becomes possible that Jack the Ripper’s case will not be solved after all.

David Mallett’s trite title, An Evil Legacy, sets the reader up for a rather cookie cutter novel. The twists and turns that Mallett’s novel takes, while grim and gory, are not particularly surprising. While the novel addresses substance abuse, sexual advances in the workplace, depression, and a number of other heavy themes, the reader is left wanting more of a connection between these ideas to each other and to the core of the novel. While the mystery of Jack the Ripper will never grow cold, Mallett’s novel could make it more enticing with a few edits and a new title.


Rise of the Iron Eagle by Roy A. Teel Jr.


Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 1.17.26 PMRise of the Iron Eagle written by Roy A. Teel Jr. is a gripping tale that will make your heart pound with terror while your stomach clenches and somersaults. It is not a story for the faint of heart. As most people would tend to agree serial killers are twisted in the mind and their black hearts pump ice cold blood through their veins. The Iron Eagle is such a serial killer, but he is even more of a psychological mystery as the vast majority of his victims are fellow serial killers. He seems to find these horrific killers before the police or FBI can locate them. Then, he kidnaps, tortures, and kills them. To kick off the story he kidnaps a private detective and former U.S. Marshall who has gone out with the intent of killing Iron Eagle, but he fails. In fact, there are some very deep dark secrets about this man that Iron Eagle knows about and used to justify what he did to this detective. Brace yourself for horrific scenes as you turn page after page trying to discover not only who the Iron Eagle is, but the secrets that he seems to have an uncanny ability to discover what others can’t. What will become of the Iron Eagle? Will law enforcement stop him before he kills another killer?

Hold on to the edge of your seat because Roy A. Teel Jr. will take you on a exceptionally graphic and gruesome ride in Rise of the Iron Eagle. With scenes incorporating bodily mutilation, sexual perversion, and heavy foul language, this is a suspense thriller that seems like it came from the fiery pits of Hell. Teel does a good job of pulling you into the story, but his writing style can be a bit confusing at times because you aren’t sure exactly who is speaking. This makes you go back and reread conversations to follow the flow. Other times, you may find yourself rereading a section because it seems too shocking to be possible. If you are brave enough, then dive into the sheer terror and bloody horror that awaits you and the victims of the Rise of the Iron Eagle.


Sleeping with a Wall Street Banker by Marlene Morgan


bankerHighly confusing and complex, Sleeping With a Wall Street Banker, focuses mainly on Jake Logan and Alice Francis. Marlene Morgan bounces this story back and forth between New York City, Connecticut, and London while she bounces Jake back and forth between his new romantic partner, Alice and his former girlfriend, Jessica Brooks. He meets Alice in London, and after a whirlwind affair Alice not only ends up pregnant but thoroughly confused as to what Jake’s true intentions are. He continually disrepects her and emotionally abuses her, but she keeps going back to him and allowing the relationship to continue. Nearly 100% fooled by Jake, Alice doesn’t know the truth about Jessica until years into her relationship with Jake. By then, she has moved from Europe to America, yet she still succumbs to the lies. Jessica is mentally ill and the further along in the story the reader travels Morgan brings Jess, an alter ego, more and more into the forefront. Eventually, Jessica’s mental instability comes to a breaking point and even as Alice finally decides to leave Jake for good she is unable to. Jake’s choices throughout the story truly set Alice up for her ultimate demise as well as Jessica/Jess’ demise, too.

Marlene Morgan has written Sleeping With a Wall Street Banker in a very disjointed fashion. A reader will have a very challenging time trying to follow what is taking place. The first chapter should be a prologue versus a chapter as it has no connection to the story until the last few paragraphs. There are a ton of characters that pop up seemingly out of context and are only in the story for a few lines. This adds to the confusion. It is also difficult to connect to Alice and Jake because Morgan never really offers you an opportunity to get to know them from the inside out. Overall, Sleeping With a Wall Street Banker lacks depth and needs to be strengthened in order to have a plot that is truly desired.


Stemmare by Eugene Balakirov


71Fi+6H6TLLScientists are already cloning sheep. When will they begin to clone people, which just might lead to a form of reincarnation? This wild concept is at the core of Eugene Balakirov’s Stemmare. It is 2022 when the head of National Stem Cell Research in Boston is sent on a top secret mission by the President of the United States. The Masons have teamed up with the government in a crazy scheme to bring back powerful and beloved people from the past from Abraham Lincoln to Marilyn Monroe. Accepting this project ultimately leads to Eric Cross’s demise, and then the story jumps ahead fifty years. There is obvious corruption within the United States government, and more than one president is removed from office in one fashion or another. In the midst of it all, Texas has left the Union and elected their own president. Democracy vanishes as Balakirov takes the reader into a socialist America. Will the United States survive, and just what kind of a role did the stem cell project really play in all of the upheavel?

Eugene Balakirov pulls you in from the first page as he immerses the stem cell researcher into a mysterious experiment. Though it is seemingly clear that the babies born from the DNA cloning process have grown up to become derelicts in government and in the White House, suspense and mystery continue. Stemmare exposes government officials running wild nearly to the point of being implausible. Yet, Balakirov writes in a way that makes it possible for the reader to imagine such a frightening potentiality. With a present tense writing style, the reader will need to shift his or her perspective as Balakirov places one right alongside the characters and events as they happen versus looking back upon them after the fact. From this viewpoint, Stemmare will make you severely question what is going on behind closed doors from the White House to your next door neighbor.


Rampage 1982 by B.D. Renard & John Nolan


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Rampage 1982 tells the shockingly true story of a New York diner that became the site of one gang’s horrifying acts of greed and violence over thirty years ago. Five armed men entered the crowded diner after raiding, robbing, and raping guests at a house party not far away. Known by a variety of cartoonish nicknames – Cobra, Oil Man, and Goliath, among others – the “Belmont Avenue Boys,” as they were then called, forced diner staff and patrons alike to undress and compliantly perform sexual acts upon each other; anyone who refused was shot, sodomized, or worse. After an intense investigation, three of the men were apprehended and sent to prison – but their sentence was reduced from three millennia to a mere thirty years. Anthony, the son of one of the rape victims, conceived on that awful night, learns the truth about his conception on the very day the prisoners are released. Contacting a variety of victims from both the diner and the house party, Anthony puts together a team whose sole focus is capturing the criminals responsible for their pain and emotional turmoil, and exacting their vengeance. But in seeking to punish the Belmont Avenue Boys, Anthony’s crew falls in danger of becoming as irredeemably murderous as the men in their sights.

Rampage 1982 is a true-crime thriller binding together fact with fiction so tightly that readers will have difficulty distinguishing where one ends and the other begins. The result is a heart-pounding tale of human depravity that elicits strong feelings, chiefly disgust, sympathy, and (of course) justice. Many of the scenes toward the beginning of the book – and elsewhere – are hard to stomach, due to their unerring portrayal of the violent crimes involved. While the graphic nature of the story is certainly justified, the novel’s narrative and the development of its characters leads one to assume that Anthony and his accomplices might perhaps come to an understanding of, say, a higher justice – the understanding that one act of violence does not serve as an effective reckoning for another. In this regard, Rampage 1982 reaches a wholly different and hauntingly unexpected conclusion.


Wispa by Tim Parker

Wispa by Tim Parker

What does love have to do with the CIA, and international scandal? In Tim Parker’s tale of espionage and romance it’s the glue that cements secret operative duo Pamela and Jake to one another and leads them on a whirlwind journey at breakneck speed. Wispa opens with a chance meeting between the protagonist, “fully liberated woman” Pamela Mullen and her ex-boyfriend’s cousin, Jake Wells, as Pam returns to her alma mater for a reunion in the Berkshire Mountains. The intense chemistry between the two ignites a passionate weekend that neither saw coming. Sometimes love makes you do crazy things, and within two days of returning from her reunion, Pam steps down from her high-powered VP of Finance position in NYC to consult and dive headfirst into the arms of her newly found lover. As the couple get to know each other better, Jake let’s Pam into the shadowy underbelly of his life and reveals that he’s an ex green beret contracting with the CIA. With seemingly endless dedication to her man, Pam begins consulting with the CIA as well which turns out to be an exciting and dangerous departure from her corporate past.

The story of the CIA operation Pam and Jake got wrapped up in was entertaining, intellectual, and well developed. It will certainly appeal to a reader interested in a militaristic information chase, and someone who craves the resolution of a good mystery. However, the concept of a strong female lead exploring the possibility of negotiating a relationship was enticing, but as soon as the two main characters meet, Pam starts relinquishing the dominance and independent vision it took to break the glass ceiling in corporate finance, allowing the influence of this almost complete stranger to wash over her. It makes her come across as dutiful and complacent, and it was as though her personality was dampened before we got a chance to know her. The pace of the novel is as breakneck as the affair between Pam and Jake. While the plot points connect easily, since the timeline is short, they come across like they’re being listed, almost as though there should be an “and then… and then…” between them. Early scenes of passion are drowned in unnatural dialogue that makes sex very uncomfortable and set an awkward tone for a relationship that we seem expected to buy into. Parker does well at structuring a mystery, but the characters and relationships that support it left a lot to be wanted.


Anonymous by Christine Benedict


Christine Benedict’s Anonymous tells the story of Debra, a former foster care child, now married and working on her first home with her husband, Greg, a man Debra describes as “a gentle man.” Despite Debra’s description of Greg and her insistence that he is unlike her stepfather, Debra still cannot bring herself to tell him no, a forbidden word from where she’d been, a word worth tasting blood in her mouth, which is how she ends up in a dilapidated, grimy house dealing with snakes, spiders, and a multitude of feral cats. It is not surprising that Debra begins to hear things when she is alone in the house. However, for Debra, this does not just mean she is rightfully nervous – Debra’s mother is a paranoid schizophrenic, and Debra’s worst fear is that she has inherited this trait.

Debra soon becomes friends with her nearest neighbor, Julie, who has problems of her own. Julie is not only trapped in a loveless marriage, she is also being stalked by a nameless individual who seems to know everything about her. Debra tries to help Julie identify her stalker, and Julie helps Debra deal with her many problems in her new house, like Otto the recalcitrant bull, who terrorizes Debra for months. Benedict deftly interweaves Julie and Debra’s stories, creating characters that the audience cannot help but like. By alternating episodes of fear and tension with scenes that depict Julie and Debra’s burgeoning friendship, as well as the tender love between Debra and Greg, Benedict keeps readers on the edge of their seats throughout, culminating in a satisfying denouement that adroitly ties together all of the narrative threads. The story is riveting from beginning to end and that, combined with Benedict’s elegantly constructed prose, makes it easy to overlook some minor copyediting errors and some occasional narrative confusion.


Reaction to Murder by David Veale


The novel Reaction to Murder by David Veale is a complex thriller about the investigation of the death of chemistry professor Phil Blakeridge, and the massive fire that occurred at the local college. Immediately it is discovered that Blakeridge’s death is indeed a murder and a long list of suspects, mostly fellow college staff and various sexual partners of the victim, are slowly and painstakingly ruled out. Throughout the book, the reader gets to know and grows to like the police officers involved in solving the crime, and each one is fully developed down to their love lives, habits, and personalities. The story delves into drug use and dealing, arson, rape, multiple murders, as well as abuse. Despite the darker subject matter, there are also loving relationships and good friendships portrayed in the book, and the main characters’ senses of humor keep the book upbeat to a certain extent.

As Reaction to Murder unfolds, the reader finds themselves actively involved in trying to figure out who the murderer is, and there are just enough twists in the plot that it doesn’t become obvious until the author intends for it to be. For the most part, with the exception of a gambling habit, the investigating officers in the novel are portrayed as stand-up citizens who are willing to lay their lives and jobs on the line for each other and the greater good of the community. While the murder victim was portrayed as a highly flawed individual, the author painted him to still be likable enough that the reader wants his killer to be brought to justice. The novel is highly interesting from start to finish, and by the end of the book one hopes there will be more to come from this very talented writer.


In the Shadow of the Predator by Steven Yuresko


In the Shadow of the Predator, written by Steven Yuresko, is a sensational story filled with predators. Set in the not too distant future, sex offenders face far stricter laws and consequences, and the rules and regulations continue to tighten. A well-known psychologist, Dr. Tannem, is on a mission to create a new society. This new concept stems from his own secret pedophillic desires. With hundreds of millions of dollars to spend he convinces the ruler of the Yucatán Region of Mexico, Ernesto Valentinez, to allow him to create a resort on a small island under Valentinez’s control. Valentinez is disgusted by the idea of providing a place where grown men can come to sexually abuse children without fear of punishment, but he needs the money. He may be a drug lord and have his own sex slaves, but he is still disturbed by Tannem’s concept. Yet, there is so much more to the story than Dr. Tannem and Valentinez. Spencer Hyde, a convicted sexual predator, was a former patient of Dr. Tannem’s in prison, but now that he is out and living in one of the highly controlled gated communities for sex offenders, law enforcement decides to use him as an undercover agent. Spencer ends up becoming exceptionally important to Tannem while secretly feeding information to his contacts. Once on the island and while helping prepare for the grand opening of the resort, he meets Naiya, a former sex slave who escaped from Valentinez. Throughout the story, you can see that Spencer is trying to change his behavior and prevent future sexual crimes. However, he is quite drawn to the teenaged Naiya, and Tannem tempts him by sending a little six-year-old girl to live with him. Is it possible that Tannem will succeed in creating a sexual playground for child molestors or will he get what he deserves in the end? Will Spencer succumb to temptation or will he finally be able to turn his life around?

Steven Yuresko has written a complex mystery thriller, but In the Shadow of the Predator is easy to follow. There are a few grisly death scenes and a few graphic sex scenes, but overall such scenes are moderate. Yuresko is cautious with the physical intimacy between the adults and the children in the story, but be prepared for some disturbing suggestions of what reallly goes on. At the core of this story is the twisted and frightening mind of an authority figure, and a psychologist who tries to make it okay and acceptable for adults to desire sexual relations with children. The characters were easy to connect with and care about, including Spencer. In the Shadow of the Predator is a page turner and while it includes shocking scenes now and again, Yuresko has filled it with a powerful interwoven message about real love and the psyche.


On the Road to Where the Bell Tolls by M.J. Williams


mj williamsOn the Road to Where the Bells Toll is a mystery novel where a family, mainly the grandparents Emily and Stan, try to solve a case that involves an apparent suicide. Stan and Emily are spending time with their daughter Megan, her husband Phillip, and their granddaughters Wynter, Allyn, and Annabel when a friend of their daughter asks them to look into her husband’s death. Though his death seems to be a cut-and-dry suicide to the local police, the woman is convinced that her husband would not have killed himself. It is the second death in a short period of time that seems suspicious, causing the family to believe there is more going on than there originally appeared to be.

The book focuses quite a bit on the interaction between the three generations of Emily and Stan’s family, and portrays them as a very wholesome group. The problem is it seems a little unrealistic that there is so little dysfunction in the family dynamic. The biggest quarrel any of them have are the minor spats between the two youngest grandchildren. It also seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination for members of the same family to discover multiple dead bodies and to then take it upon themselves to investigate the possible murders of them. Despite these drawbacks, On the Road to Where the Bells Toll is an engaging read, with lots of attention to detail and interesting historical facts peppered throughout. The conclusion could have been a bit stronger, but overall the reader is left feeling quite satisfied by the end of the book.


Blackinton Heart by Steven Yuresko


Steven Yuresko’s Blackinton Heart is a mystery that will have readers hooked right from the beginning. The story is centered around the Pompano Beach Police Department in 1989, with the narrator and main character being an Argentinean civilian crime scene technician, Paolo Giorgetti. He begins his story by introducing readers to the area of Pompano Beach, Florida, and explaining the rising crime rate which is being caused by a sudden influx of crack cocaine in the area. Not only is this story a mystery, crime-thriller, but a romance aspect comes into play as well. Early in the story, readers are briefly introduced to a mysterious young girl, who appears to be a prostitute when Paolo first sees her working in the streets. He is instantly drawn to her, and a twisted love story begins to unfold as Paolo finds himself in love and caught up in a dark relationship, as she is estranged from her drug dealer boyfriend and pimp, from whom he tries to protect her.

This story has it all, crime, action violence, love, and mystery. Yuresko’s real life knowledge of Pompano Beach from his actual experience is evident in the way he writes this story. His first hand experience working along side the Pompano Beach Police Department makes this particular story a very strong piece with a knowledgable narrator and an interesting, exciting story line. This book is action packed, yet has a dark love story, making it a good fit for a wide variety of readers with all different kinds of interests.


The Kings of Krajina by Steven Yuresko


Steven Yuresko’s novel about the Yugoslav war of 1991-1995 describes the journey of one Croatian police officer through an intense battle of hatred, prejudice, and misunderstanding. Police lieutenant Ljubomir is hard headed and dedicated, refusing to move his family out of a war zone until the last minute, which results in him landing in a labor camp. After months working to construct a fancy hotel, Ljubomir becomes the head of a Croatian resistance group in the ancient Roman fortress that his uncle used to tell him wonderful, if not magical, stories about. Fighting against old Serbian neighbors and losing loved ones, the siege is not easy, but Ljubomir remains dedicated to his family, his people, and the history of the ancient ruins that he has always loved. While things frequently don’t always go according to plan, the bravery and dedication of Ljubomir’s crew is remarkable and their journey is unforgettable.

While Yuresko’s writing style in The Kings of Krajina originally seemed bland and maybe even robotic, the author’s dry sense of humor and straight forward story telling style quickly became more and more enjoyable. With lines that seemed to be too funny to be in such a tragic setting, Yuresko humanized every character and revealed to the reader that conflict can be damaging and scarring without taking the whole soul. Yuresko’s depiction of historical events is eye opening and sad, but it also reminds us that beauty, belief, and maybe just a little bit of magic can be enough to help you survive.


The Water’s Edge by Elizabeth Farris


edgeThe Water’s Edge will suck you in and pull you under as Elizabeth Farris tells you a tale of abduction, torture and murder. Yet, there is a beautiful love story just beneath the surface of The Water’s Edge as well. Farris opens the story with the killer lifting the limp body of his first victim off of his boat and “into the cold still water” of the Ohio River. The reader is soon introduced to Bethany Farrar and Jim Gardner. They are former lovers, who broke off their relationship due to policy against it from their police departments. Bethany recently resigned and opened a detective agency, but the two have never reconnected. Unbeknownst to Bethany and Jim, she will eventually become the target of the psychotic killer. The killer, though a highly respected architect, has a deep dark past that causes his mind to trigger a violent rage. This leads him to do unthinkable things to women who he believes are his mother. He is very skilled at ensuring that his secrets remain hidden, and keeps the local police departments stumped. With almost no evidence to go on and the bodies of beautiful women with long blonde hair accumulating, the FBI is asked to assist in the case. Undercover sting operations, collection of evidence from abduction sites, and an FBI criminal profile begin to put the puzzle pieces together. But, will they catch the killer in time, or will Bethany become his next victim?

Elizabeth Farris did an excellent job making the focal point of The Water’s Edge the murder mystery. She brought in the love story between Jim and Bethany, but only lightly. Of course, their romance played a key role in Jim’s state of shock at the end of the tale. The Water’s Edge is well written and easy to read. In fact, it is a fairly quick read. It is an enjoyable suspense novel without any disturbing levels of graphic details. To top it off, the romance is sweet and a pleasure to read – again without any graphic details. Elizabeth Farris’ The Water’s Edge may make you think twice about what really lies just under the surface.


Bone Box by Jay Amberg

bone boxJoe Travers travels to Turkey in order to check up on an archeological site. Never did he expect to find himself pulled into a web full of betrayal, and violence. Sophia Altay is a beautiful archeologist leading a team who discovered a stone box dating back to the first century. A box the ancient Jews used to bury their dead; the inscription on the box reads: “Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.” Altay now must struggle to keep the discovery a secret until she can verify its authenticity. Aside from the inscription on the box, there were other things inside, things that could alter history as we know it. There are people out there who would kill to obtain this stone box and to suppress the contents and what they could reveal. There are members of the foundations which fund and support her dig, that want to shut her down. Altay, with the help of Travers, must fight to remain at her dig and stop those who wish to take credit for her work.

The story creates a world readers want to visit. Amberg uses his words to paint a beautiful picture of Turkey with detailed descriptions of the mosques, gardens, and dig sites. In one scene he describes a village, with the actions of the villagers with old men at cafés smoking and drinking tea, or a tractor pulling a watermelon cart, where a melon crashes to the ground. This attention to detail gives the reader so much to envision and makes them feel as if they are a part of the story. The characters of Sophia and Joe Travers are very likable from the beginning. Sophia is a woman with passion for her work and will stop at nothing to complete what needs to be done. The way she describes archeology being a puzzle and how sometimes a find could alter the outcome of the puzzle, puts the field into a new perspective. Travers is a man who seems to be running from his past even though it continues to follow him. The religious undertone to the novel adds depth to the plot. It is no longer the story of a woman wanting to protect an archeological dig of random early settlements, but a woman wanting to protect the religious sites such as the place Saint John is said to have lived and died after Christ. Making a reference to the gentlemen of each organization involved as Pharisees illustrates not only religious struggle for the box, but Sophia’s own religious struggles. The characters and the story come to life through Amberg’s storytelling. One would almost begin to think the possibility of the events in this story as being real. Bone Box is a novel full of twists and turns, as well as stories within a story.


In an Enemy’s Country by Jim Fraiser


51BEvtZH4jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_As a published historian, it would be fair to say that Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ferguson is focused on the past.  Ferguson’s friends and coworkers are forever debating politics and religion – in good humor, of course – while drawing from centuries-old texts as evidence of their beliefs.  But as interested as he is in history, it seems a bit odd to him when an old manuscript shows up at his office – a document that sheds intriguing new light on one of Ferguson’s favorite politicians, Thomas Jefferson.  The mysterious manuscript comes at a time when Ferguson is involved with what had initially appeared to be a simple case of assault, but now seems to have dubious ties to a domestic terrorist organization. As the courtroom climate heats up, Ferguson must do all he can do expose a threat that has long existed in the shadows, and protect both his family and his country from a radicalized revolutionary madman.

In an Enemy’s Country is a striking addition to Fraiser’s already impressive portfolio, which includes a mixture of fiction and historical texts.  With thematic ties to famous thrillers like The Da Vinci Code, this novel stands tall with an intriguing premise and an explosively entertaining protagonist.  Other reviewers have remarked upon the dialogue and its compulsive readability, which can be credited to an abundance of underhanded slights and off-the-cuff historical references.  But, arguably, what really gives the story its drive is Ferguson’s love for his son and daughter, a troubled family dynamic which is touched upon in nearly chapter and made more complex by the early death of the children’s mother and the anxieties that begin to plague Anna Grace, Ferguson’s daughter, when she develops – and publicizes – political convictions that are nearly as strong as her father’s.  By including such a realistic portrayal of a family’s life and daily struggles, Fraiser has created a novel that is at once breathtaking and hauntingly resonant in its truthfulness.


Chinese Puzzle by T.M. Raymond


chineseAs the first novel in a trilogy, T.M. Raymond’s Chinese Puzzle is full of action, mystery, facts, and lies. Raymond’s story opens with the prologue, as a harsh and wealthy man sends a telegram with his butler to an undisclosed recipient in Shanghai. When our experience begins in Shanghai, we meet two main characters – that of Zephyr Davies, a wealthy white American, and a poor, young Chinese boy, Gou Sing. Paths cross and journeys begin when Davies begins to search for a historical walking stick, encrusted with jewels and surrounded with mystery, rumors, and meaning. When Davies purchases the artifact from the antiques shop where Gou Sing is employed, he returns it to Madame Lin, his longtime family friend and current boss. Davies soon uncovers the past behind the “clouded twilight” walking stick, learning that its curse brings violence and death to those who own it. Madame Lin believes that her niece, Monica, is to blame for the Lin family heirloom’s recent unknown whereabouts and its secretive return to China; unknowing of its supposed curse, Madame Lin desires the “clouded twilight” to remain in her possession. The curse of the walking stick comes to fruition when the antique shop owner is found dead in his shop, leaving Gou Sing as the culprit. With the knowledge that Gou Sing is innocent, Davies travels to the local underground “lord” and opium smuggler, Elder Brother, to make a deal to protect Gou Sing in exchange for Davies’ loyalty and favors in the future. Before Davies makes an expedition to San Francisco for Elder Brother, he finds that Madame Lin has also been murdered, likely as a result of the “clouded twilight.” In a journey that leaves Davies in danger, confused, romantically hungry, looking for answers, and questioning his loyalties, we follow the protagonist in an adventure that is bound to continue on in the next two books of the trilogy.

T.M. Raymond has created a story that is captivating and thorough, keeping readers interested throughout the novel and projecting interest onto the coming two sequels. Each of the characters in the novel have a distinct background that is explained within the novel, creating motivations that drive the actions and personalities of the characters. Throughout the novel, readers are found to be questioning the “facts” along with Davies, who works as both the procurer of information and the detective of many situations and crimes along the way. The twists and turns that the author reveals are surprising not only to Davies, but also to readers – an uneasy feat for many writers. The language in the novel is varied for each of the characters, creating not only distinct voices but also making clear the effort that was employed by the author in the creation of such a story. The research and the interest of the author is clear to the readers, making the novel even more enjoyable. A story that is sure to interest all, this mystery is full of questions, answers, and excitement.


Dying Wish by James Raven


dyingYou will not be able to put down Dying Wish by James Raven. This fourth book in the DCI Jeff Temple Series tells you what brutal childhood experiences can actually create. Sexual sadism is at the core of Grant Mason’s true being. However, almost no one knows the truth about who Grant really is. In fact, in recent years only his psychotic accomplice knows what really makes Grant tick. Grant suffers an unexpected heart attack, which leads him to demand that his assistant promise to burn his house down with everything in it. She, instead, contacts the police, and they discover a secret office in the house. The police, the residents and beloved visitors of New Forest National Park in southern England are mortified by the devastating evidence that is found. Grant has apparently been on a murderous rampage for years. The police quickly realize that a young couple, who recently went missing, has been abducted by Grant and his accomplice. The plot thickens as Raven shares a number of potential suspects. But, this story is more than just about crazed serial killers and their victims. Raven mixes in a major life change for Jeff Temple that he is unsure he wants to face. Dying Wish is a book that will have you salivating for the truth while your anxious heart connects you to the missing couple, Jeff, and maybe even the child version of Grant’s vicious accomplice.

James Raven has crafted a fascinating and eerie tale of abuse, torture, murder and a hint of love. Dying Wish is a story that will keep you guessing and trying to put the puzzle pieces together until the very end. Raven leaves no stone unturned in this story. There are some graphic details, but nothing that could be considered overly explicit. The mysterious and suspenseful nature of the plot will have you curious from the first few lines all the way through the surprising development in the epilogue. An exceptionally well-written novel, Dying Wish is one you need in your library.


Inventing Madness by J.G. Schwartz


madnessInventing Madness, as Schwartz pens it accurately, “is a fictional alternative as to how Thomas Alva Edison acquired his fame and fortune.” Six months prior to his death, Edison commissions New York Times journalist William L. Laurence to write Edison’s biography. Once approved by Edison, the document will be placed in safekeeping until its designated publication release date of November 2, 2015, which earmarks the centennial anniversary of Edison’s phonograph or talking machine. What transpires over a seven-week period of interviews is Edison’s undemonstratively appalling and unconscionable retelling of his lesser-known past.

J.G. Schwartz’s debut novel is a nearly believable account of one of the most brilliant yet obsessive figures of the 20th century. Divided into the seven interview sessions between Laurence and Edison, Schwartz delves into the “unfinished” stories of Edison’s life. Told through Laurence’s eyewitness account, Schwartz’s first person narrative is a masterful blend of imaginative horror storytelling and history. Schwartz’s matter-of-fact script includes a host of insidious situations (incest and mysterious murders, to name a few) that, according to Edison, are first-hand accounts taken from his nanny’s and mother’s diary entries. Amid detailed descriptions of his most notable patents, Edison incorporates a slew of repulsive stories – including his diabolical manipulations to assure recognition as the greatest inventor that has ever lived. Schwartz keeps the interview sessions moving by mixing straight-out storytelling with accounts that are elaborately played out via dialogue, as well as Laurence’s personal commentaries and research. There is no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that history and historical fiction lovers will find themselves completely absorbed with Inventing Madness. But beware: it is NOT for the faint of heart!


Misty Flats: A Tale of Sin and Redemption by F. Walton Avery

Misty Flats, North Car2940148483366_p0_v1_s260x420olina, isn’t precisely a town – it’s more a collection of buildings, of businesses, of families – nor is it known for being the backdrop to violent crimes. But when Greenville Sheriff Joshua Reynolds’ wife turns up dead in a well, a bloody hatchet found not too far away from the body, the whole community becomes embroiled in a mystery the likes of which it has never seen. On the surface, Joshua appears to be an upstanding fellow: served overseas in the Vietnam War, protects and serves the people of Misty Flats, has a family of his own. Yet war has an odd way of warping a soldier’s mind, and Joshua has an unshakable case of PTSD that leads him to erratic and violent behavior – not to mention mental blackouts, during which he doesn’t remember a thing he says or does. Is it possible that Joshua is responsible for his own wife’s murder? Could his drug-dealing brother have something to do with it? With friends and enemies alike rallying to puzzle out the clues, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is laid bare.

It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction, and readers will be delighted to know that this story is based on an actual murder case, though the names and specifics have of course been changed. Perhaps the most powerful thing about Misty Flats is that it so accurately illustrates how PTSD can mutate our loved ones, piece by piece, into complete strangers. It is also alarming to realize how little assistance our country’s veterans are given once returning from conflicts overseas. The result of this moral gray area is such that readers will be forced to sympathize both with the murder victim and – potentially – her murderer, himself a victim of inescapable psychological circumstances.


Seared by Sandra Gustafsson

91KKbyu4HuLWhen Helena meets David at a coffee bar in Sweden, she is frightened by the electric and inexplicable bond between them. After all, she is used to being shunned by the people around her – even cruelly bullied by them. But David, unperturbed by Helena’s icy exterior, inserts himself into her life, and gradually they begin to fall in love. Yet their relationship is anything but innocent. While he is upfront about his marriage to another woman, David’s commitment to his wife continually eats away at Helena until she nears the boiling point. And Helena is hiding a few dark secrets of her own – secrets that could have profound effects on the people around her.

Seared is a psychological thriller in the style of Gone Girl, the main conflict unfolding delicately and masterfully over the course of the novel. Through sessions with her psychologist, readers gain morsels of information about Helena’s relationship with her parents, and, more significantly, with her lover. At times, the narrative feels almost dreamlike; Helena’s psychological evaluations frequently unearth dormant memories into which she plummets like Alice down the rabbit hole. The subtle interchange of memory and reality will threaten to confuse and mislead readers, as any good thriller will do. Beyond the central plot, Helena’s tumultuous relationship with her mother, Simone, lends gravitas to the story. Suffering from a bitter divorce, Simone has become withdrawn from the world, retreating home from work at night like a turtle into its shell. Over time she becomes an increasingly unfit mother for Helena, and later she begins to resort to emotional abuse as an alternative to healthy parenting. The exploration of this malformed mother-daughter bond is essential to understanding why Helena, fully matured, acts the way she does. Both brisk and brutally raw, Seared is highly recommended for fans of thrillers and family dramas.


Dead Money Run by J. Frank James

deadThis is a thrilling mystery all wrapped up into what is a sometimes a messy and violent package. With his novel Dead Money Run, Author, J. Frank James has you curious from the beginning. Lou Malloy was part of a gang that stole approximately 15 million dollars from an Indian Casino. He is the only gang member left and is about to come upon his release date after serving 15 years in prison for the crime. However, the money was never recovered and Malloy knows where it is hidden. His plan to recover the money doesn’t go as smoothly as he might have hoped. Shortly before his prison release, he’s notified of his sister’s death. He has no idea why she was killed, but he’s about to find out. In the midst of trying to recapture the stolen money, uncover the truth about his sister and keep from being killed by unknown killers hunting him down, he meets Hilary. The main focus of the story is on the mystery surrounding the money and his sister’s murder, but James does give you a touch of a love story alongside it. You will keep turning pages with bated breath as you seek to discover the real scoop in Dead Money Run. Will Lou land back in prison or will the true thugs take his life? Is it possible that Lou Malloy and Hilary could end up sharing a romantic relationship for the long term?

J. Frank James did a very nice job constructing a fast moving plot for Dead Money Run. It is intriguing and thrilling. However, the reader should be prepared for a bit of gruesome violence. Yet, the violence doesn’t override the mystery and suspense within the story. Hold on to whatever it is that you’re sitting on as you read this story, because James is about to take you on a wild ride.


In the Shadow of Lies by M.A. Adler


The first novel of a planned series following homicide detective Oliver Wright, In the Shadow of Lies by M.A. Adler is a mystery novel set before, during, and after WWII. As the cover of the book suggests, the majority of the novel takes place in the San Francisco Bay area, in the town of Richmond. We follow detective Oliver Wright and his trusted sidekick, the German Shepherd, Harley, as he aims to solve the murder of an Italian Prisoner of War which occurs right after Wright himself returns home from active duty. With black soldiers suspected of the crime, Wright joins forces with people on both sides of the case, an Italian POW captain and a black MP, both of whom are enraged for different reasons. With the unsolved cases of disappearances, rapes, and beatings still lingering in his mind from the time before the war, Oliver Wright is determined to serve justice in this new case that we follow him on for much of the book. With his unlikely team at his side, Wright uncovers layers of deception and corruption that stretches back even further than he could have imagined, connecting with the earlier crimes in a way he never dreamed possible.

Combining the harsh realities of racism, war, murder, violence, and cultural differences amongst men, M.A. Adler has constructed a novel that is both fast paced, exciting, and beautifully written. More than just a mystery novel, In the Shadow of Lies, forces the reader to contemplate how they themselves treat others based on preconceived notions. While often times dark in its tone, Oliver Wright is a plucky protagonist who lifts the reader up, bringing hope that he will solve the crimes committed, and bring justice to those who have done wrong. There are many novels out there about WWII and its related topics, but we found this book to feel wholly original in its outlook, tackling certain subjects that are not often discussed when reviewing this portion of our nation’s history. Skillfully weaving together multiple cases and mysteries, offering clues and setbacks along the way, In the Shadow of Lies is a well written and engrossing book that will have you begging for another riveting tale from author M.A. Adler.


The Colossus by Ranjini Iyer


When Maxine Rosen receives a strange visitor from London, she has no idea how her life will change and all of the extraordinary adventures that await her. Until this time, Max has been leading a rather unremarkable life. She has a nice apartment, runs a semi-successful catering company, and, until recently, had a decent enough boyfriend. When Mr. Lars Lindstrom reveals that he has information regarding the scientific research that both Max’s father and grandfather had devoted their lives to, Max’s interest is piqued. When the information that Mr. Lindstrom shows Max possibly suggests that her father did not commit suicide, Max becomes dedicated to following the clues to their end, finishing the work that her predecessors had begun, clearing her father’s name, and discovering who the Colossus really was. From London to Karachi, Max’s search for truth and love will take her around the world, force her to put her life on the line, and test the very foundations of everything she believes.

Ranjini Iyer’s novel, The Colossus, is a thoughtful adventure into the world of pharmaceuticals, corruption, greed, love, and everything else in human nature. Iyer presses the reader to think in shades of more than just black and white and realize that human nature can be understood as a blessing or a curse– it just depends on how one thinks about it. As with all humans, Max vacillates between pride and shame, love and hate, courage and fear, but what really matters is how Max forgives those around her, especially those that she trusts the most. Iyer’s careful research and attention to detail make The Colossus an unforgettable read.


Book Sale by Clark E. Tanner


tannerReligion and religious texts often are at the core of heated debates, controversy and, sometimes, even murder.  Clark E. Tanner has crafted a fictional tale around an ancient religious text that could potentially cause an uprising within the Christian community.  In Book Sale, you need to sort through a slew of characters to follow the story line and wade through numerous, lackluster distractions.  However, if you do, you will discover an interesting plot that has a number of twists and turns.  Secrets abound in an effort to protect an ancient manuscript.  Tanner’s characters fight to guard it, and some will, perhaps, even kill for it.  Moving through fifty-eight chapters may make your head spin and in need of a flow-chart to keep up, but buried within is a good mystery.

It is true that Book Sale by Clark E. Tanner is a thriller that didn’t thrill us in the beginning.  In fact, it took until the seventh chapter before the storyline grabbed our attention. In an effort to set the stage and offer you, the reader, the opportunity to become immersed in the scenes, Tanner has crammed far too many concepts into sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph.  There are so many characters that it is pretty difficult to keep track.  This made it a bit of a struggle to continue turning page after page.  Though the writing needs to be polished further, we believe that with the help of a good editor there is an intriguing story within the pages of Tanner’s Book Sale.


Hunting Mariah by J. E. Spina


J. E. Spina creates a haunting thriller in Hunting Mariah, in which she introduces a serial killer with an agenda: to kill Mariah. All his other murders are practice or collateral damage towards this ultimate goal. However, Mariah has been unaware of this killer’s plans for years. She is carefully protected by those around her. Nonetheless, the killer must eventually conquer his goal, and the book approaches its climax with bloodshed and close encounters.

Hunting Mariah has a good plot concept with a murderer who has an ultimate endpoint. He has a tremendous blood lust, but killing Mariah is his ultimate motivation, making the reader think that his killing spree could end with her. Spina also has an interesting method of revealing the plot, mainly through Mariah’s flashbacks after she is brought into psychiatric care. Even the background of the killer is brought forward in pieces. The reader is carefully given clues throughout the book as to why the killer is so focused on Mariah. While Spina is a good descriptive writer, particularly when detailing the mind of the killer, the dialogue can become cliché at times. The plot can feel disjointed since the chapters are often very short, which breaks up the plot and causes the reader to switch focus often. This book could also use a heavy editor’s hand because there are switches in tense and points of view and it lacks punctuation in parts. Overall, Hunting Mariah is a unique read that one does not often encounter.


Mojave Desert Sanctuary by Gary George

Gary George’s Mojave Desert Sanctuary opens with a Japanese-American woman in the office of Eddie Mazzetti, manager of the Serengeti Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas in 1961.Kiko Yoshida is working as a Keno runner while dreaming of a career as a singer and dancer. Eddie and two of his Mafia associates make Kiko an offer she can hardly refuse at the age of twenty eight if she is ever going to have a chance to break into show business. The three men sign a contract with Kiko promising to compensate her with a role in a Broadway musical, “The Flower Drum Song,” soon to arrive on the Las Vegas Strip if she attends an elegant dinner as a date for a high-ranking Mafioso from Chicago. When the “date” turns out to be an attempted rape, Kiko soon finds herself on the run with the mobster’s briefcase, a briefcase containing over a half a million dollars of “skim” money for the Chicago Outfit. A chance encounter with the owner of an isolated desert ranch gives Kiko hope of sanctuary. Kiko becomes close with three people: ranch owner, John Stonebridge; soon-to-be college freshman Aden Snow; and a mysterious Chemehuevi Indian, Joe Medrano. During the months Kiko is in hiding, the Chicago Outfit has been searching nationwide for Kiko. The Outfit not only wants its money, it also wants revenge for the death of Frankie “The Whale” Pescatore, a “made man” in the organization Eddie Mazzetti suspects she may have gone to ground somewhere closer to Las Vegas and has two men scouring every town within one hundred miles of Sin City. When Kiko writes a brief note to her parents and Aeden mails it from the little town of Smoke Tree, the Chicago Family gets its first real lead to her whereabouts. Two hit men eventually turn up at the ranch.

Gary George’s work in Mojave Desert Sanctuary can be described as inconsistent, but overall entertaining. Throughout his story, George switches narration between each of the characters in each of the separate chapters. This aims to create a voice that changes throughout the story, providing different perspectives to the same plotline. Despite the attempts, however, George is inefficient in creating vastly different voices for each of the characters. While reading each of the chapters, readers are sometimes compelled to turn back to the beginning of each chapter in order to determine which of the characters is narrating. The two main characters – Ade and Kiko – seem to have the most distinct voice from each of the minor characters; most of the remaining characters, however, blend into one indistinct narration. The organization of the novel is creative, but the execution is less than ideal. Additionally, some of the narration provided by the main characters tends to become excessive, often taking away from the main plotline of the story. While it is understandable that scenery and images must be presented fully in order to understand the setting, the descriptions often are unnecessary. In contrast, character backgrounds of both Ade and Kiko were also thorough, but the reveal of these histories was enjoyable and added to the character development. Overall, Mojave Desert Sanctuary was an entertaining read, and one that could be recommended to readers interested in the desert southwest.


Forgiving Maximo Rothman by A.J. Sidranksy


When nonagenarian Max Redmond is found brutally beaten in his Washington Heights apartment, the attack raises a lot of concern and suspicion—and, when the old man dies, the drama is only heightened. The police investigation turns from assault to murder, and the evidence, along with most folks’ fingers, point to one suspect. But, seasoned detective Anatoly “Tolya” Kurchenko doesn’t share most folks’ opinions. He’s convinced that the obvious suspect didn’t do it, and he’s determined to find out who did—and, indeed, he does, though that’s not all he discovers in the process. When searching Rothman’s apartment for evidence, Tolya finds the decedent’s journals, and as he reads them, he finds out that he and Max have a few things in common, from religious matters and family tragedies to cultural issues and concerns over one’s own human nature. Dovetailing Toyla’s and Max’s stories is that of Max’s son, Shalom Rothman (fka Steven Redmond), a devout adherent to the Jewish faith, who’s married to a rabbi’s daughter with whom he raises a “troubled” child now in his teen years. The three men—Tolya, Max, and Shalom—all share a common religion, though their responses to such vary greatly, and, it is in this regard that Forgiving Maximo Rothman by A.J. Sidranksy truly stands out as a relatively short text that speaks volumes.

Part murder mystery; part family saga; part history lesson; and part primer on Jewish traditions, and values, Forgiving Maximo Rothman is a completely captivating, compelling novel that intertwines the stories of three very different men to explore what it means to be a father, son, brother, man of faith, and spouse/significant other. A delightfully deliberate, delicate, and sometimes disturbing tome, it carries readers from New York to the Dominican Republic, Russia, and beyond, through the pits and peaks of human experience and emotion, and weaves a tale that’s incredibly basic, as far as how it’s told and the messages it conveys, but incredibly complex in its writing. Multilayered, multi-cultural, and multi-generational, Forgiving Maximo Rothman is a must-read for anyone who wants a story as touching as it is well-written and astounding.


A Twist of Fortune by Mike Martin



A Twist of Fortune by Mike Martin is a book about a police officer in the small town of Grand Bank. While it is the fourth book in a series, you can read it alone and still feel you’ve read a complete story with no loose ends and a good sense of closure. The main character, Sgt. Winston Windflower, is a kind and responsible man who is good at his job and respected by the community. He has a loving relationship with his girlfriend Sheila who is a beautiful woman, a good cook, and has a role of leadership in the town. She even ends up running for mayor. At work Sgt. Windflower and his team are investigating what at first appears to be a death from a car accident but turns out to be something much more complicated and sinister than a simple car crash.

This book is well written and is the kind of story that makes you feel good when you read it. The characters are well-developed and it has a strong plot. Though there is probably a little too much focus on food and coffee consumption, the story unfolds nicely and comes together well at the end. It has the perfect blend of showing an interesting daily life, the charm of a small town, the intrigue of police work, and the love shared between two people in a strong relationship. A Twist of Fortune is well-written, entertaining and interesting, and while at times it is a bit predictable, it doesn’t detract from the quality of the story. It’s a fun and heart-warming book that makes you want to read the rest of the series.


Wicked Secrets by Angi Dawn


Mystery and murderous mayhem pervade Angi Dawn’s thriller Wicked Secrets, however a logical plot seems to be lacking. When Bella Dawn (not to be confused with Bella Swan of the Twilight franchise) fails to land a post-collegiate job, she falls under the spell of the enigmatic Bianca Lake. Naturally, she agrees to join a “modeling agency” while shacking up in a luxurious manor with people named Rayven, Phoenix, Domino and Viper. While one may initially question the legitimacy of Blue Moon Modeling, Bella does manage to secure a photo shoot, if only to fuel the ridiculous plot. When her mentor Bianca winds up dead and amazingly disappears, the college-educated Bella begins an arduous emotional journey in which she must decide whether it’s best to leave or somehow deal with violence surrounding her. After all, she just might be falling in love with the all-too-dreamy Viper.

If the reader can get past the inconsistent comma usage, and some spelling errors, the over-the-top story has a rather decent flow. Unfortunately, Dawn guides the reader along by overtly incorporating thematic ideas into the dialogue. The lead character often amuses herself by noting her positive qualities, but somehow she can never quite make the conscious decision to leave the manor. Chapter after chapter, Bella reflects on the strange occurrences but proceeds to throw pool parties and extravagant feasts. None of the girls appear to be working, of course, given their boss has been murdered. The backstory of Wicked Secrets is almost non-existent, along with any type of reference to the outside world. The only bit of plot that seems to make sense is the idea that Bella was psychologically brainwashed. Inexplicably, the finale offers little closure to previous plot points, which leads one to believe that everyone was dead to begin with. Why else would an educated woman endure such a fiasco?


The Lost Prophet by James B. McPike


After almost losing his life trying to save the world, Vince Ramsey is taking a well deserved Tahitian vacation. Unfortunately his trip is cut short when the Ministry of Jerusalem sends someone to find him and put him back to work. The Tomb of the Prophets has been destroyed and many people have been killed in the attack. Now Ramsey must find the culprits before they attack again and deliver the best justice he can…while once again trying to cheat death.

The Lost Prophet is riveting book from James B. McPike, and another case for his protagonist Vince Ramsey. With great writing, good characters, action and suspense, this book will keep you on your toes until the end. McPike once again takes us to Israel and puts us in the middle of the fight. The Ministry is desperate to find out who is behind the attacks on the religious monuments and put a stop to them as fast as possible, and there is only one man they feel is right for the job. As much as Ramsey wants to say no and give someone else a chance to save the world, he knows he has no choice. He has to do this, and you are there with him every step of the way feeling like part of the action. You get to know Ramsey a little better in this book. You see how his relationship with April is evolving, and you see him struggle a little with his sense of duty. April is also coming to terms with recent events and reevaluating her path. McPike peels back a few more of Ramsey’s layers here,  and also shows the reader how a well-to-do Swedish woman crosses paths with a fedora wearing man named Dimitri. He explains what causes this woman with no criminal history to join him in destroying religious landmarks. You can see that he has taken the time to make sure he has well rounded characters to take his already great story to the next level. The reader is immersed into a world of holy relics, olive trees, city streets, the combinations of the new and the old, and the tension between religions. We hope that McPike continues this series, as there seems to be many more stories to tell!



Mister Rainbow in the Case of the Cock Robin Killer by C.S. Boag, like its impressive title, is sure not to disappoint. A cross between classic film noir, Sin City, and John Kennedy Toole’s, “A Confederacy of Dunces,” the story is an absolute riot, though it does not actually feature any riots. As many of you may have already surmised, Cock Robin is, in fact, murdered– this does not spoil any important plot points. His murder is then picked up and investigated by…well, he has so many aliases and false names and there are only so many words in this space, so…his murder is investigated by a very private investigator. A man who is good at his work, or at least good enough to scrape by. Mister Rainbow does not exist, but this does not prevent him from having a kid, an ex-girlfriend, an ex-wife, and a potential stalker who sometimes get in the way of his work or get him into trouble. The more he investigates, the more the plot thickens and the bodies pile up. As far as anyone is concerned, in Sydney, Australia, Mister Rainbow has one of the most interesting lives for a man who is not actually known to be alive.

Mister Rainbow in the Case of the Cock Robin Killer is a fun and fast-paced read, with lots of twists and turns that will keep you chuckling and wondering who or what will happen next. That being said, if you cannot handle a pun or some fun, but mostly the puns, you are not going to make it. Do not say we did not warn you, because sometimes a pun can be as dangerous as a gun. That may not actually be true, as we have heard that guns can be quite lethal, but seriously, be ready for some puns.


Dead Balance by Gary Wayne Clark

four stars

The mountain resort of Deadraven hides a dark secret until a disabled veteran in a remote cabin receives an eerie message describing a grisly killing—before it happens. Baffled, the local Sheriff enlists the help of Logan, a troubled Indian boy with a scary talent for locating dead bodies, but when Logan’s vision quest to track the killer goes awry, the hunter becomes the hunted. Our hero Logan while unsure of himself and wary of his destiny finds strength in his childhood home and friend Raven. Together they help the local Sheriff solve a string of grisly murders. Faced with a ruthless killer with no end in sight, the trio must work together to stop the killer before another body drops. With a spiritual and fantasy element Clark invites the reader on a journey with Logan who will ultimately have to find himself in order to save the town and everyone he loves.

Gary Wayne Clark has created an engrossing story with exciting character depth in his novel Dead Balance. This is a testament to the author’s skills. Well-written and researched, Clark ensures that the reader is fully invested in every character and aspect of the story. Set in the high mountains of the Continental Divide readers are treated to a picturesque setting prime for a thrilling read. Anything seems possible in this untamed and unruly landscape. As murder and ancient myths collide, a young man is brought to the edge of his world and tested. Dead Balance is a diverse landscape of mystery, sweeping mountain imagery and cultural insight.


Detective Lessons by Bill Larkin

four stars

What a tangled web Bill Larkin weaves in Detective Lessons.  A simple harbor patrol officer saves the billionaire father, Mac Whelan, of a young man he once knew in high school. It was not an unusual stranded boat rescue, but the wealthy real estate guru most certainly has some unusual experiences in his past. When Whelan’s son comes up missing he decides, for a seemingly strange reason, that he wants Deputy Schmidt to find him. Whelan offers to pay a large sum of money for locating his only son as he fears that something terrible has happened. Will Schmidt agree to help? If he does, will he unknowingly risk himself by getting tangled up in Whelan’s manipulations and his son’ potentially dangerous deals?

In this page-turner, Bill Larkin does a great job of expressing to the reader the energy and personality of each character. For example, early on in Detective Lessons it is obvious that Deputy Schmidt is a pretty laidback guy, but Larkin expresses how he is not a push over either. Even though Whalen offers him an opportunity to earn a chunk of cash, Schmidt makes it clear that such a payment would be against police policy. He may not be one to conform, but he doesn’t just jump at the chance to switch things up in his life. Of course, Whalen is used to getting his way. Larkin continues to offer a very well written and detail oriented story as he continues to create intricate twists and turns only to unravel them as the story progresses.


Rose Wood by Sharon Mikeworth


In Sharon Mikeworth’s novel, Rose Wood, we meet protagonist and somewhat-skeptic Aileen as she works as a journalist for the magazine Southern Aurora. Aileen is known for writing her columns on the paranormal activity in her Georgia and South Carolina surroundings, often attempting to report facts and only facts. Without presenting her own beliefs on these supposed “hauntings,” Aileen simply wants her readers to make judgments for themselves. Aileen herself barely believes in the apparitions, until one day everything changes – with the strike of lightning during an unexpected storm, Aileen suddenly finds herself connecting with the dead: smelling, hearing, dreaming, and seeing the ghosts of the other side. With the visions of a mysterious young girl ever-present, Aileen decides to investigate the meaning behind them, delving deep into the history of Rose Wood. With the help of friends, colleagues, and her new love interested Todd, Aileen soon uncovers the history of the plagued household, the family that once resided there, and the man that still remains.

In a way that only some writers are able to accomplish, Sharon Mikeworth manages to create a legitimately spine-chilling story through her tale of Aileen and the hauntings of the Rose Wood Plantation. When taking a break from continuously turning the pages of this novel, the mind of the reader is surely churning, attempting to put together the history of the family, right along with Aileen. The narration and thoughts of Aileen are those that most individuals would share in similar situations, and the development of both the storyline and the characters are not only believable, but truly enthralling. The novel never slows or lulls, nor does it move too quickly to keep track of its progression. As an author that understands the mind of the reader, Sharon Mikeworth has created another hit in her growing list of accomplishments.


Horse Hunts by Gary George

four stars

Lieutenant Carlos Caballo, known to everyone as Horse, is in search of an important piece of evidence. However, there isn’t time for that when he receives a call about an inspector being shot by a suspicious man. Leaving his search for evidence behind, Horse must track the suspect and catch him before he hurts someone else. Harvey Vickers is just plain bad. Even though he grew up pretty well off with parents that loved and adored him, he was still rotten to the core. One day, after a lot of drinking, he started fighting with his wife. In a fit of rage he killed her, and decided to bury her in the desert on his way to Vegas. But his half-formed plan was ruined when he was stopped by the agricultural inspector and asked to open his trunk. After shooting the man, his car broke down so he headed out into the desert. Now it’s only a matter of time before they catch him- but he isn’t done yet.

Horse Hunts is a novella in the Smoke Tree Mysteries series, and it is a great chance to learn more about Carlos “Horse” Caballo. Gary J. George gives us another peek into this amazing world he has created, and keeps us entertained throughout the entire narrative. The story follows Horse as he tracks down a murder suspect who he knows is armed and dangerous. However, since he knows the desert well, he has an advantage over Vickers. The story flows naturally and is very easy to read, and the descriptions George uses helps paint the picture in your mind. He describes everything perfectly-from the beauty of the desert to the depravity of Harvey Vickers and everything in between- but he doesn’t overwhelm you with the details. They don’t distract you from the main story nor do they slow it down. They just fall in place easily. George takes us inside the minds of the two main characters and we get to know who they truly are. You get to see how messed up Vickers really is; how his brain works. You see how he justifies his actions and sees himself as the victim. You also get to learn more about Horse in this book- about his history and his family life, including when he first met his wife and his time fighting in the Korean War.


Remote Control by Chris McGrath


A fascinating tale of ancient secrets, murder, former spies, and modern day archaeological discoveries, Remote Control, wraps its intriguing story line around you from the first few pages.  Author Chris McGrath sets the stage by putting the characters in modern day Jerusalem.  However, the plot is intricately interwoven with ancient times – specifically the time of Jesus and his crucifixion.  The two main characters, Sean McKenna and Dr. Faith Foley, are unwillingly pulled into a deep mess involving writings about Jesus that have never been noted, accepted or published previously.  McGrath leads the reader on a journey of secret information that claims Jesus married Mary Magdalene and even gave birth to his child.  To maintain peace government officials stop at little to keep these deep and powerful secrets hidden.

Chris McGrath’s Remote Control is a page-turner – hands down.  From one minute to the next the reader will want to know just what is going to become of Dr. Foley and Sean McKenna.  Of course, the reader will also want to know the secrets that McKenna seems to have surrounding his past.  Are they dark secrets?  Or, something he just has to keep quiet?  McGrath writes in such a way that you are able to get a good sense of McKenna and Foley’s personalities right from the first chapter.  When they are attempting to escape the “watcher” after seeing a man they know murdered, they still continue to crack jokes and share sexual innuendos with one another.  As the plot develops, the reader will question whether their humor and affection for one another will sustain them in the midst of such a dangerous religious battle to keep secrets hidden.


Contract Pending by Al Marsiglia


Al Marsiglia’s novel Contract Pending offers a unique view into the modern-day mob and the life-changing events that can occur when one becomes too involved with it. Frankie’s life seems to be going entirely according to plan until he accepts a ‘job’ as a hired hand– just roughing up and intimidation, no killing. At first Frankie is tentative and careful, but the more jobs that he does, the more he realizes that he does not mind the mob life, or the money that comes with it. However, when Frankie takes a job off to spend time with his brother and his partner totally botches it, losing a huge amount of money, Frankie ends up finding himself on the bad side of the mob and truly begins to realize how unforgiving of a ‘family’ the mob can really be. As Frankie’s world quickly spirals out of control, he comes to realize the importance of freedom, unexpected friendships, and love.

Contract Pending is a quick, easy, and fast-paced novel. While it has some fun twists and turns, there are no earth-shattering or truly unexpected events. The characters also leave something to be desired, not developing much and only remaining page-deep with dialogue that could easily be from a movie. However, Contract Pending has an exciting story-line, making it a fun page turner that will leave you hoping that there is enough time and that the wrong person will not get caught in the crossfire.


Lay Them Down to Sleep by Amos Williams


Lay Them Down to Sleep follows the main character, Detective Lee, as he aims to solve a murder mystery. A lot of character development and exposition are packed in from the start, as author Amos Williams has written an intense piece of fiction. The beginning of the story starts by explaining Lee’s previous heroin addiction that he still struggles with every day, the fact that he is a cop only further complicates this matter. When Lee and his partner arrest a criminal and find a great deal of heroin stashed away in his car, Lee can’t help but swipe a few of the packages for himself. The reader follows along in horror as Lee is unable to face his demons, as he fills up a syringe and shoots up, getting high off the powerful drug. After his heroin induced hallucinations begin to cease, Lee has a vision of a girl named Cindi Swann. It seems as if she is asking Lee for help, because her figure is more ghostlike than anything else in the vision she comes to him in, and it may just be because she is no longer alive. It may just be that she was murdered, and needs Detective Lee to overcome his addiction so that he can figure out who ended her life.

While the story itself is rather engaging and causes the reader to want to continue reading, Williams’ writing is a bit jumbled and all over the place at times. It could use further editing and organization, as the long paragraphs and very little dialogue may dissuade the reader from becoming fully entrenched within the story, as they should be. Gritty, realistic and raw, Lay Them Down to Sleep has a dark tone that is sure to pull many readers in, but due to the missteps along the way, many readers will also look the other way.


The Essence by Andrea Thornton


Trying to follow the story line is quite confusing from the beginning of The Essence. This makes it a bit challenging to get interested in the book. There is a callousness to murder, as it is just a paid gig for some, while there is an absolute lack of self-respect by others. The reader is enticed with these initial character traits only to be left hanging. Eve, the main character, is youthful, but filled with anger at times, and is exceptionally promiscuous. Engaging in a relationship with Seth leaves her even angrier and disheartened, but then a new roommate, a male roommate, moves in. But, just how did this guy, Cam, really come to be her roomie? What sort of twisted scheme is he involved with?  He is involved in something secretive and sinister, but he has an innocent, nervous edge to him. Wait! Is there something strange about her relationship with Seth? Will Eve end up having a romantic relationship with Cam?

The grammatical errors in this book are quite rampant. It needs a good deal of editing as the errors can actually make it difficult to follow along at times. On top of that, the plot drags and doesn’t make the reader feel a great urge to turn the page. In the beginning, there seemed to be some mystery and intrigue, but the further one reads the more he or she will discover unimportant aspects to the story. These parts of the story leave a lot to be desired.  Little snippets dropped in the middle of chapters hint at the mysterious aspects, but then author, Andrea Thornton, plops the reader back into fairly slow moving scenes. If the reader can hang in there, they just might be surprised at the interesting twists and turns the plot takes. There truly is an interesting story, but it is buried within lackluster details.


Conquests by Rich Martin


South Korea after the war is a volatile place. Their version of government doesn’t sit well with many citizens, and they feel President Park is little more than a dictator. There are riots and demonstrations in the streets, and police are cracking down. Just being suspected of illicit activity is enough evidence for arrest or worse. Tom Gates is a Peace Corps volunteer teaching conversational English at a small school in Gangjin. He is far from home and clearly out of his element. He doesn’t fully understand the way things are done, and he is too American for many Koreans. His sarcasm tends to be misunderstood and it has gotten him the wrong kind of attention. When one friendship is questioned and another is betrayed, he will find himself in the middle of a conflict much bigger than he ever realized. Bae works for the KCIA and is extremely loyal to his government. He considers the demonstrators to be nothing but troublemakers and not real Koreans, and his favorite part of the job is tracking down political dissidents. The only thing Bae hates more than demonstrators? Foreigners. Americans in particular. So when he comes across Tom there is an immediate distrust. Bae makes it his mission to personally bring Tom to justice…no matter the cost.

Conquests gives us an inside look at what life in Korea was like after the Korean War and the separation of North and South Korea. It follows several characters as they try to find their place in the world and how they all fit. The writing is well done. It is an intense book, and it is written with intensity. Rich Martin has managed to place us in the middle of this conflict and turmoil. He makes it feel very real, and you are caught up in the story almost from the very beginning. The descriptions used place you right in the story and help you see it as you read it, and help you understand the characters and the world they live in. The characters in Conquest are complex and human. The reader follows Tom on his quest to find where he fits in and his attempt to survive the minefield he has walked into. Bae is full of anger and hatred, especially towards Tom, and you feel every ounce of that hate. You also feel the contempt he has for the people who have the audacity to disagree with him. You feel Kim’s turmoil and confusion as well as President Parks’ superiority. Conquests by Rich Martin is a must-read book for anyone that likes history, wartime books, or a good thriller.


In the Howling Storm by Rich Martin


Filled with a rather risqué storyline, In the Howling Storm, has the reader wondering from the beginning just what in the heck is going on. In the first few pages, a spooky storm pops up that brings night to the daytime in the desert just up from Death Valley in California. Author, Rich Martin, offers the reader twisted and mysterious scenarios from the very beginning. Yet, Martin also fills the pages with graphic sexual content, violence and foul language. This writing style will either stimulate the reader encouraging him/her to turn the page or cause him/her to close the book and walk away. Even more, the author adds in poetry, bible verses and religious declarations from mysterious characters as well as some towns’ members that propose that those who participate in certain, sinful behaviors should be punished. With quite a few characters introduced early on there may be a bit of confusion for the reader, but if one keeps reading the main characters begin to become clearer. The main character, Jason, is one of two journalists from competing newspapers, who put forth great effort to best one another. As they try to get the best article, they dig deeper into a story of the occult and murder.

In the Howling Storm carries a religiously based murder mystery within its pages, but the writing is simplistic, and often times the narrative muddles the characters together in a way that can sometimes lead to confusion. Rich Martin’s writing makes the plot a bit difficult to follow at times. At other points, it almost feels like a corny horror film, and the next events seem blatantly obvious. When reading this story, be prepared for interesting twists and turns, but be just as prepared for an angry undercurrent.


(Un) Sound Mind by Richard Amico


unsoundWhat makes one know the difference between reality and fantasy? For that matter, what is reality? Richard Amico’s book, (Un) Sound Mind, feeds you, the reader, immediately into a scene where these questions are clearly evident. Is Franklin Jameson really seeing apparitions in his bedroom at night, or is he losing his mind? Dr. Ruth Klein, a psychologist, just might be able to help him. Yet, she has her own issues to deal with. It doesn’t take long though for Franklin’s nightmarish episodes to wrap the reader and Dr. Klein up so tightly that one might feel as though he or she is in the scene too. Again, the question arises – what is reality?

(Un) Sound Mind will grip you around the throat while your heart races and your mind works overtime to comprehend just what is actually happening. Richard Amico does a fabulous job pulling the reader into the story while they wait with baited breath to turn to the next page. He lays out the nightmarish confusion of Franklin while he weaves in a secondary plot, which involves another of Dr. Klein’s patients. The reader will most likely highly anticipate the answer to what mysterious connection these characters have. Amico doesn’t waste time as he gracefully blends the plot lines together while still leaving the reader wanting more, and anxiously awaiting a climactic ending. If you want to dive headlong into a thrilling mystery with a psychological twist, then picking up and reading (Un) Sound Mind will offer you an enjoyable escape from your own reality.


The Versailles Conspiracy by Robert Digger Cartwright


With a seasoned style and a complex protagonist, The Versailles Conspiracy by Robert ‘Digger’ Cartwright is a thrilling story of municipal corruption and one detective’s quest to find the truth. After losing his wife and son to a horrific car accident, hard-nosed Lieutenant Wickland begins an investigation into the death of a South Carolina city planner and a Russian business owner who may or may not be connected. Looming above the usual suspects is a mysterious Mr. Grey, a man of extraordinary power, but perhaps a man with flaws like everybody else. While discovering the shocking truth about the community’s dark underworld, Wickland learns that he may be a target just like several of his witnesses.

Exceptionally written from beginning to end, The Versailles Conspiracy transcends the usual thriller. Cartwright’s acute understanding of city politics is obvious early on and the complex characters jump from the page. While many first-time authors deter the reader away with run-on sentences, Cartwright’s literary acumen conveys what it means to be a pro. Each sentence snaps with conviction and the author’s attention to detail becomes utterly unbelievable at times. While the character dialogue isn’t sensational, Cartwright’s ability to convey a setting is outstanding. One particular scene has Lieutenant Wickland visiting a nervous witness and Cartwright’s build-up to the meeting reads like classic literature. It’s simply magical. Despite the tight structure, the storytelling becomes too guided at times with the narrator restating the obvious, but all in all, there’s not much to pick apart in The Versailles Conspiracy.


The House of Dark Shadows by Digger Cartwright

four stars

Digger Cartwright’s The House of Dark Shadows is a mind-bending, psychological thriller. Alex Rommel is a business savvy, attractive, charismatic, twenty-five year old living in the beautiful and historic Charleston, South Carolina. He is emotionally recovering from the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend. Upon an unexpected encounter with an old college friend and his new fiancé, who he met online, Alex is convinced to give love another shot. He signs up for an online dating service and immediately finds a gorgeous French woman named Hope. Thus, begins their wild and confusing relationship. Although Hope intoxicates Alex, she and her family may not be all they seem. At the same time, Alex is struggling with maintaining a highly desired plot of land that he owns. A large business company wants to purchase it from him in order to expand their project. Events happen and questions surface that make Alex begin to wonder if his business dealings and love life have become intimately intertwined.

The House of Dark Shadows is a slow burn. The first half of the novel is quite uneventful, simply following Alex’s day-to-day life as he negotiates his relationships and business deals. However, as secrets are revealed the pace picks up consistently, allowing one to breeze through the last one hundred fifty pages as the reader will feel the urge to need to know what happens next. The end’s twists will leave the reader reeling in shock and awe. The only issue with Cartwright’s novel is it doesn’t cleanly tie up some of the final plot points. There are some questions that are never fully addressed by the book’s close, nevertheless, this is an interesting read.


Murder at the Ocean Forest by Digger Cartwright


Murder at the Ocean Forest tells the story of a young wealthy couple whose South Carolinian vacation turns into a nightmare. Faye and Terence Underwood have a tenuous marriage. She suspects him of womanizing. He suspects her of imagining things. While vacationing at the historic Ocean Forest Hotel at Myrtle Beach, Faye mysteriously disappears. What follows is a convoluted, mind-boggling, and haunting murder investigation.

Robert ‘Digger’ Cartwright, author of several mystery stories, teleplays, and novels, has produced a mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Set during World War II, Cartwright’s third person narrative is replete with all the elements associated with that era (Nazis, covert operations, prohibition, Pullman cars) and most particularly high society (Rolls Royce touring limousine, colored help, etc.) Cartwright utilizes a mix of literary tools to keep his novel continually flowing. On top on that list of tools is his skillful use of red herrings to throw readers off guard to the real perpetrator, such as the sense of malevolent ghosts lurking about the hotel. Cartwright not only alternates scenes that zero in on all of his prime and supporting characters, but he also laces his plot with affluent imagery befitting the rich of that time period (environs, dress, references to vintage books, and especially the patriarchal mindset.) Of course, Cartwright’s descriptions are tightly woven into his meticulous character development, which is coupled with irony. Good examples of that include the preacher who raises money for his church by secretly peddling liquor, and the blind clairvoyant woman who has ominous visions of impending disasters. Lastly, Cartwright employs a plethora of narrative twists, especially during the investigation. Murder at the Ocean Forest is, indeed, riveting from cover to cover.


An Absence of Ethics by JB Millhollin

four stars

An Absence of Ethics by JB Millhollin is a well thought out journey into the short comings and intricacies of law as well as the the sometimes confusing desires of the heart. Rosa Norway is a strong-headed and capable attorney working for justice in Nashville. When she receives the case of Jake McKay, a man who appears to have murdered a prostitute, she does not know that it is the case that will change the course of her life in ways that she could never have imagined. For many years, she had focused her energies on her education and then her career, inching closer and closer to becoming partner at her firm. When Rosa meets Judge Hampton, the judge presiding over McKay’s case, she feels stirrings that she has never felt before, something akin to love, something that could potentially grow to be love. As these feelings continue to expand, all of Rosa’s years of hard work fade into the background and her code of ethics is challenged. Should the needs of the heart outweigh the importance of ethics? Is the personal life more important than the professional life? How should success be defined?

Millhollin’s writing is precise and well-researched.  He creates characters whose struggles the reader can understand, sympathize with, and want to see happily solved. These realistic characters arise from Millhollin’s deep understanding of the things that make humans tick. He understands the things that upset, anger, and push what an individual can take to the limits. The deeper that Rosa engages with Judge Hampton, the more she questions what makes her tick and where her limits are, and the more she questions her fundamentals, especially those that relate to her ethics.


Miller’s View by M.W. Potts

four stars

When Detective Jonathan Miller put on a pair of rose-tinted glasses he found in a victim’s apartment, he never expected to see what unfolded before his eyes—and he never expected the images to draw his heart into the ensuing investigation. Miller’s View by M. W. Potts is a thoroughly intriguing story of murder, mystery, and magic that follows Miller as he tracks down a killer and searches for a beautiful young woman who’s captivated both his professional and personal interests, hoping that they are not one in the same. Aided by visions of the past, as delivered through the rose-tinted glasses, Miller slowly but surely discovers clues surrounding the murder of a private investigator on assignment in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, and is confounded by the feelings he has for the gorgeous woman the investigator was tracking. Miller’s murder investigation carries him deep into the underworld of Louisiana’s mystical river culture and eventually exposes a tangled web of dark secrets and deception that ensnares everyone he encounters, including those closest to him—and, at the center of the web is one woman, though she’s not exactly who Miller thinks she is.

A mixed-genre book if ever there was one, Miller’s View cleverly fuses elements of the classic whodunit together with just the right amount of romance and a touch of supernatural suspense. The incorporation of “magical glasses” into a murder mystery may, at first gloss, seem a little disjointed, but M. W. Potts smoothly incorporates this twist in a seamless fashion that only adds to the numinous aura created by the book’s setting and shadowy, intertwined characters. All told, Miller’s View is a compelling read—and a quick one, too. It’s a rather short novel with powerful momentum that’ll have you turning pages until the very end.


Justice for the Black Knight by Jerri Blair

download (1)When Freddie Edwards was a kid, he used to pretend that he was a fantastic hero named the “Black Knight,” a being with the power to slay any foe and right any wrong.  Growing up in the American South wasn’t particularly easy for Freddie, and he’s been dogged by racism even into adulthood.  With multiple prison sentences and run-ins with the law, some might say that he hasn’t adjusted to well to modern society.  Still, people that know him believe Freddie to be an honest and upstanding citizen.  But that all changes once Freddie is put on trial for another man’s murder.  Covered in blood, his fingerprints on the murder weapon, it’s impossible to claim that Freddie isn’t the perpetrator of this heinous crime.  To make Freddie’s case even less concrete, he’s being defended by a second-rate lawyer, a man who ultimately assumes the very worst in people and probably doesn’t care a bit whether or not Freddie wins his freedom in the courtroom.  When Freddie’s sister Ruby and childhood friend Annabelle are reunited for the murder trial, the two woman concoct a plan to help fish out the real story behind the murder.  They have become the Black Knight’s only hope for survival.

With interesting characters and a unique premise, Justice for the Black Knight quite astutely tackles the topic of racism, combining the best elements of legal thrillers like The Firm with the exploratory and contemplative tone of subtle but powerful works of literature like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.  Against the backdrop of a courtroom drama, Blair paints a condemning but sadly realistic picture of our country’s justice system and its numerous shortcomings, which, for many, is anything but just.


Dead Men are Heavier than Broken Hearts by A.M. Morrow

The American crime novel is a staple to our culture. Something that is thrilling time and time again, even if it does tend to have the same formula; logical crime investigator/cop finds the clues, links them up with little outside help, and eventually finds the criminal at large. A.M. Morrow has come along and in a refreshing manner and has turned the American crime novel on its head. Peter Rubedo is a green private investigator. Peter is a twenty-five year old eager to prove his worth as a detective in his family’s long history of private investigation. But our hero has a secret. He communicates with his dead family on a regular basis, with the help of a Ouji boards set up for purpose of intergenerational communication but his ancestors. After a few extra marital affairs and petty crime investigations, Peter finally gets his big break with a missing person’s case. As he begins to delve into the case of David Muguet, it leads him to a new age cult and a series of questions about murder, mysterious drug use, and visions. As the body count continues to rise around him, Peter must try to decipher the unclear clues that everyone seems to want to give him.

The premise for the book is extremely interesting. Peter Rubedo is just an average man trying to make it in the family business. The thing that I perhaps found most interesting about it is just how green Rubedo is to detective work. He doesn’t seem driven or focused at all. Half the time he gives up on leads because he’s too tired or cold and he just wants to go home. He seems sloppy and his behavior shows his youth, which works well in the context of the character. The story doesn’t have the reader try to believe that this kid is a crime solving prodigy, it just portrays him as a real person trying to do his job and make a living. He makes several rookie mistakes throughout the book and gets chastised by his dead family members on more than one occasion for failing to do the obvious detective thing of finding the motive behind the crimes committed. Marrow’s use of mystery surrounding the Benjamin Ellis Foundation was actually quite brilliant. It almost gave the reader the idea that they are trapped in a dream of sorts, blurring the lines of reality in the story. Admittedly, the ending is a bit anticlimactic. The reader is left with way too many questions unanswered, and yet, the ending fits perfectly with the rest of the book. In the end, it wasn’t about the case at all. However, development is needed for most of the characters, particularly the character of Paulina Zajac and an elaboration on the nature of her relationship with Rubedo. Overall, A.M. Marrow’s style is enjoyable, and we hope to read more from this author in the future. Dead Men Are Heavier Than Broken Hearts is a crime novel that dares to explore questions of existence, reality, and what is beyond.


The President by Bernard Jacobs

Political manipulation, money, power, terrorism and global war – all of these are key elements within The President, written by Bernard Jacobs. A brand new president of the United States is elected, but just who is he? President Paterson Winters, an exceptionally wealthy businessman, has deep, dark secrets and a secret agenda for the United States of America. In fact, he was born to a Muslim woman and his biological father was actually a prince and advisor to the King of Saudi Arabia. Finding a man with a similar background to his own, President Winters, maneuvered Colonel Ryder Graham into the position of being his Assistant Chief of Staff. Yet, this high profile position placed Ryder in a situation in which he could never disobey or betray the President or he would find himself in a heap of political and legal trouble; perhaps, even, such betrayal would put his life at grave risk.

Jacobs’ The President is a complex tale of political and military manipulation. Even personal relationships were created for convenience and manipulation instead of formed around truth, honesty, or love. This novel weaves in a variety of secret plans. Some of these are revealed throughout the story while you, the reader, are left to wonder, for quite some time, just what The Plan that Nur, President Winters’ mother, spoke of to her son before she was murdered. With clandestine operations being implemented by top-secret military agencies as well as some of the wealthiest and most powerful people on the planet would President Winters succeed with his hidden agenda? The President will have you turning pages with fierce curiosity anxiously anticipating the answer to that question and more.


Mactan by Edward J. McNeill

book-mactanEdward Frobisher is running out of time.  In Manila, just days before Japanese pilots are scheduled for an air raid of the Philippines, Frobisher is asked – by General Douglas MacArthur no less – to lead a rescue mission for wounded American soldiers.  Just like that, Frobisher is handed countless human lives and asked to shepherd them to safety.  The plan is to collect the wounded and spirit them away to Australia, but that’s much easier said than done.  If he is to successfully carry out his mission, Frobisher will have to overcome almost insurmountable odds.  Otherwise, everyone is doomed.  Meanwhile, fifty years later, Matthew Wintercorn has just arrived in Manila from Texas, where he is starting work with the American Red Cross.  Wintercorn’s own grandfather was a soldier during WWII, so it is no surprise when an old black-and-white photograph hanging on the wall at ARC headquarters captures his interest.  It depicts a heavily battered boat with the name “Mactan,” which echoes unexplainably in Matthew’s memory.  His search for answers will lead him on a rediscovery of the past, digging up old secrets and uncovering forgotten truths.

Mactan is an enjoyable jaunt through history that boasts compelling characters, an intriguing premise, and settings so rich they seem to spill off the page.  Lighthearted but serious, Frobisher and Wintercorn are two young men given tough jobs, and though their paths never cross in real life, there are strange and entertaining parallels between them.  McNeill has a commendable working knowledge of WWII history that has been put to great use here in a quick-fire tale that is sure to impress even the most stalwart historian.


The Long Goodbuy by Lee John Wyper

The Long Goodbuy by Lee John Wyper is a novella that tells the story of Joe Clancy as he attempts to escape the pain of losing his wife. Grief-stricken, Joe leaves his home only days after losing his wife to cancer. Leaving his sister-in-law, Meg, in charge of his home he sets off on his motorcycle with no particular destination in mind – his only goal is to escape. He eventually finds himself in what appears to be a quaint small-town and, after being befriended by a gorgeous blonde, Karen, decides to spend the night at a local inn. Despite a less-than-warm welcome from the majority of the townspeople, he finds himself unable to leave and spends his days with Karen and his nights at the pub. What he doesn’t realize is that the town is full of secrets – secrets that Karen refuses to share and that he may not be able to escape from.

The Long Goodbuy is full of intrigue. What appears at first to be the story of a grieving husband quickly turns in to so much more – a love story turned thriller. The story had the set-up to become a fantastic thriller or mystery but, unfortunately, fell a little short. Very little in the story, particularly Joe’s grief, the secrets of the town, and the characters in general, were given the opportunity to fully develop. Certain aspects of the plot came from nowhere and were, at times, difficult to follow which was disappointing as the plot was fascinating. However, overall the story itself was still good. The reader will quickly find themselves swept away in the narrative, particularly towards the middle and end, as the stakes are raised and everything begins to fall together. The Long Goodbuy keeps readers guessing until the last page, it’s a great choice for those who enjoy reading thrillers about small-town secrets with a twist.


Headcase by Marc Rosenberg

I9781483402291_p0_v1_s260x420n the wake of an emotional breakdown, Detective Ash Aiken returns to the police force amidst scrutiny and outright condescension from his peers.  By many, he’s perceived as a has-been, once promising but now scarred beyond remedy by the horrors of his profession.  But no matter what anyone says, Aiken is the best man for the job when a vicious serial killer nicknamed “the Slasher” starts terrorizing the town.  While following the murderer’s trail, Aiken hires a private investigator to find out where his wife and son have gone, hiding the ongoing investigation from his family and coworkers.  Willi St. Juste, the PI, senses that something is off about this assignment and fishes out the truth in his own time.  As the bodies begin to pile up, time slowly trickles out for Aiken; every minute the killer roams free is another opportunity for him to strike again.

Rosenberg has long worked in the television and film industries, and Headcase has much the same feel as those moody, hard-boiled detective thrillers from the 1950’s.  Tense and atmospheric, Rosenberg’s setting and character description is so cinematic that the whole thing is elevated to an entirely new level.  The author takes an interesting look at inner-city life, making insightful comments on society as the book progresses.  Plus, there are some truly amazing characters here, like Lizzie Januss, a young girl trapped in a grown woman’s body whose sweet veneer hides dark desires.  Not to mention the killer himself, a creepy loner with a penchant for jukeboxes. Rosenberg has a true gift for dialogue, and his characters’ drama effortlessly lifts off each page.   Furthermore, Headcase is surprisingly well crafted, the hallmark of a good crime novel being that elements of the story introduced innocently early on will have an impact on its conclusion.  Brimming with intrigue, this is a quirky thriller that demands – and deserves – readers’ full attention.


The House of Three Murders by Gary George

Gary George’s The House of Three Murders is a poignant and elegantly written novel about how a small, seemingly unimportant decision can drastically change the whole course of a life. When Johnny, Judy, and Ade decide to skip the homecoming bonfire for their middle-of-nowhere high school in Smoke Tree, they have no idea that it is a decision they will remember, regret, and consider for the rest of their lives. When Sixto sits down next to Charlie at a bar, Charlie has no idea that his life will take an unexpected turn, one that may end up with him losing his freedom, and never be the same. George’s writing is both simple and powerful, creating realistic characters whose relatable struggles with heartbreak, loss, and other teenage trials easily tug on heart strings and weigh on minds.

The House of Three Murders is more than just a narrative of high school mistakes and missteps, it is a commentary on racism, fairness, the effectiveness of the judicial system, and what it is like to be and become an outsider. It urges the reader to consider the events that shape lives, create identities, and provide individuals with life-changing opportunities. The House of Three Murders is a novel that everyone should read because it provides thoughtful insight into different identities, cultures, and families. George’s novel highlights the importance of all decisions and actions because no matter how insignificant they may initially seem, these are the decisions that could win the football game, make someone happy, tear a family apart, provide access to college, or ruin a life.


Neo-History by August Hock


Wylie Wainwright is technically a private investigator, but he hasn’t done much investigating lately. After starting his own firm, he hasn’t had a lot of demand. And being dumped by his girlfriend of five years hasn’t given him much motivation to try. While spending his morning the same way he spends most mornings (hungover, depressed, and unmotivated) he is surprised to get a phone call offering him a job. He considers saying no, since a new job would require moving, but he needs the money. Pioneer Publishing needs Wainwright to find a manuscript. They advanced a large sum of money to their prize client Al Finkel, but he died without giving them even a chapter of his new book. Now they need something to give the public to make their money back. This job is much easier said than done. Is there a manuscript or not? And if there is, who has it? This job will lead Wainwright from the top of Capitol Hill to the streets of DC to discover the secrets hidden in this mysterious manuscript. Neo-History by August Hock is a politically philosophical mystery. In the novel you learn that the government is trying to change the 13th Amendment. Some people wouldn’t have to work while others could sell themselves into slavery to get rid of debts. Wainwright learns Finkel’s latest book is right in the middle of the controversy and has the possibility of changing the entire debate.

The main character of this book is fully developed, as you learn Wylie Wainwright’s history and you watch him grow and change as the narrative goes along. The biggest change you see in him is how he deals with his breakup with Angie and his depression that follows. The secondary characters, however, aren’t as developed. His best friend Carter, for example, is nothing more than a partier. The only history you learn about him is that they were college roommates. His job is mentioned, but you don’t get to know him on a deeper level like you do Wainwright. The idea behind the story is brilliant. It is something you haven’t read before. The writing starts off great, but then it begins to slide a little as the story continues. The political parts of the story become secondary and they start to get disjointed. The writing tends to have a meandering thought process, and spelling is an issue at times. If you can look past the writing issues this book has you will enjoy it. The premise is enough to keep the reader going. Overall it is a good start for the author, as we believe Hock will just get better the more experience he gets.


Murder and Mayhem in Manayunk by Neal Goldstein

Beginning with a meeting between a mysterious stranger and a terrorist Taliban group in the mountains of the Middle East, before shifting thousands of miles away to a ritzy home in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where a horrific crime has taken place, Neal Goldstein’s thriller Murder and Mayhem in Manayunk is anything but a simple tale. Trailing off from the murder that occurs at the start of the narrative, the plot of this novel follows Homicide Detective Isadore Ichowitz and Assistant District Attorney Jack Regan who must find if these two seemingly random events that we are introduced to, are in fact, somehow related to one another. Their investigation leads to a long list of suspects and their chase to find the killer takes them across many of the iconic and well known neighborhoods of the Philadelphia area. Filled with suspense, politics, and even a little romance, this is a story that has something for everyone.

The interesting premise of connecting two very different encounters together is always an attractive method to gain readers’ attention, and it works well here in setting up the first handful of pages of this crime novel. As the plot paces on however, it can sometimes become overcomplicated, and seems to stretch out wide at the seams with all of the various instances that are occurring. The descriptions of the Philadelphia area are a highlight of the book, and are sure to appeal to those readers who are familiar with the area. The mystery is palpable and it will engage readers enough to want to know the truth, which is the main goal of any author writing a book like this. Goldstein has crafted an interesting murder mystery that is bound to appeal to many.


Call the Note by Glenn Rice

A worst case scenario, somewhat post-apocalyptic, political suspense thriller, Call The Note by Glenn Rice is the kind of book that fits into a genre all its own. Debuting the enigmatic action hero, Cleat Masin, this novel tells the story of an America that is out of luck, downtrodden, and worse for wear. The United States is bankrupt, its citizens are starving, and anarchy is sweeping across the nation as millions of illegal immigrants cross the border with ease. The greatest country on earth is floundering, falling about as the dismay and destruction continues, all the while, Masin, a HITS agent, and Special Forces Sergeant Major, must do all he can to destroy a menacing satellite that threatens to make matters far worse for everyone than they already are.

 Along with the action, this narrative also pulls in some romance, mystery, and history, thereby creating a unique tale that is bound to pull readers in. Rice has succeeded in creating a tale that takes advantages of many of American’s worst fears: the idea that it won’t be long before the United States begins to decline, eventually falling apart, becoming an entity that is unrecognizable. There is a sense of urgency and chaos to this story, and it is captured well within the words Rice has written. At all times the plot paces forward at a constant pace, as Masin strives forward, trying to find a sense of order amongst all of the madness. There is a great deal that is tackled within the book, and at times it is almost overkill, but the fact that this book makes the reader contemplate what America will be like in the future, and not even necessarily in the distance future, is what makes this book stand out from all of the other titles that are out there today.


Cyber Knights by HW Coyle and Jennifer Ellis


HW Coyle and Jennifer Ellis offer an intriguing yet frightening look into the world of online terrorism in Cyber Knights. Andy Webb, a former British Army officer, serves as the leader of Century Consultants, which offers a different type of self-defense to their clients: cyber security. The fun-loving and charismatic Tommy Tyler brings the brawn, and a young American named Karen Spencer assists Mr. Webb in taking down the most brilliant hackers and would-be assassins of the world. The team works from a London office, but they soon find themselves traveling across the globe to slay the most nerdy, pervy and dangerous dragons of the Internet.

Cyber Knights drags on during the first quarter of the novel, but not because of minimal details. The authors bring the characters to life with superb descriptions of settings and personalities, however a collection of run-on sentences makes the first 40 pages a tough read. Fortunately, Cyber Knights surprisingly takes an exciting turn with snappy dialogue, sexy locations, and a complete transformation of one of the main characters. Each chapter ends with the writers explaining the “story behind the story” and the technology utilized by Century Consultants, which initially seems out of place, but ultimately adds a fresh dynamic to the text. Cyber Knights allows an insider perspective on the dangers of cyber terrorism, but the main players aren’t fully developed enough to care about, aside from one who becomes revitalized after an Italian job. A late twist teases the reader, but it’s too little and too late. All in all, Cyber Knights produces stale tales of romance, however the abundance of tech talk is easy to follow and will undoubtedly be useful for all readers.


From the Anthem City by Mike Romeo

7070cvrClint Ronson has been attracted to danger for as long as he can remember, savoring the thrill and adrenaline rush of gangster dramas and classic murder mysteries.  After a career in the military and, later, college, Clint moves to Pittsburgh to be with his fiancée and enrolls in police academy.  But things soon sour between the couple – quite unexpectedly, too, if you ask Clint – and he is set adrift once again.  He decides to take his military and investigate skills and hire them out to people in need, which leads him to a curious case involving a lost pot of prize money from a football tournament that took place just after the start of the nineteenth century.  Clint’s job is to track down the winning team and bestow them with their (now substantially appreciated) winnings, but he’s having trouble finding mention of the tournament’s final match in the city’s historical archives.  What’s more, just hours after the tournament ended, a prominent media man was found shot in the head, though no one is clear on whether it was murder or suicide.  Clint’s search for answers will take him door to door across the City of Bridges, and, soon, the PI will realize that this case extends much further than anyone thought.

From the Anthem City is – and this is odd to say about a police thriller – quite a charming novel.  But Clint is so much different than your typical private investigator.  Unlucky in love, empathetic, and shrewd, he’s a warmer man than we’ve seen featured lately in any mystery story.  The effect is that readers will feel a strong attachment to Clint’s case, and ultimately to his life, which appears to be in greater danger the more Clint digs into Pittsburgh’s past.  Paying homage to modern thrillers like The Da Vinci Code, author Mike Romeo works some cryptic clues into the story that imbue it with a sense of the occult.  But perhaps the book’s biggest strength is its emphasis on sports, an area you don’t often see emphasized alongside mystery stories.  Here, however, it works, resulting in a compellingly original thriller with an intriguing premise.


Wind River Refuge by J.M. Anton

Jwind-river-refuge-cover-4613ax Duncan is a girl on the run – from adulthood, from pain and rejection, and from the nightmares of her past that dog her footsteps to this very day.  But in trying to evade the past, she ends up barreling straight into a new fearsome enemy.  After flying across the country to stay with her foster parents at the Double D Ranch in Wyoming, Jax’s life is placed in danger by an unknown assailant.  The prime suspect is Garrett McBride, a Vietnam veteran with a volatile temper and a dubious history.  Jax first meets Garrett as he picks her up from the airport.  He seems innocent enough – could he really be her attacker?  As both parties battle their inner demons, Jax and Garrett end up forging a connection that, for better or worse, will never be severed.

Set in the 1970’s, Wind River Refuge is the second work of adult fiction from J.M. Anton, and clearly Anton has put plenty of skill and heart into this story.  Jax and Garrett are compelling characters who the author steers deftly away from being stereotypes of themselves, and the chemistry between them is almost palpable.  And Jax!  That girl is funny!  With trademark wit and innuendo, she taunts Garrett with her brand of suggestive humor and, simultaneously, becomes the book’s winning character.  Not to say that Garrett isn’t also a great catch; after all, he’s a war veteran with a heart of gold.  Much of the pleasure from reading Wind River Refuge is derived from watching these two great characters interact with each other and attempt to dispel the dangers lurking in Jax’s past.  For lovers of romantic or historical fiction, this book comes highly recommended!


The Janus Conspiracy by Michael Davies

The Janus Conspiracy kicks off with young dreams blossoming amidst a violent war as two brothers – Russian soldiers – discover an opportunity that can make them rich if only they can make it to America. Fast forward sixty-plus years from the time of Hitler and dive into a world of conspiracy being spread along the airwaves via American radio right-wing talk shows and beyond. Is it possible that a deep conspiracy to create a New America was spawned in the imagination of two young men? Is it possible that they were willing to dedicate their entire lives to see this come to fruition? Yet, one man recognizes the deceit and begins efforts to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, he ends up running for his freedom, and his life.

The Janus Conspiracy is a page-turner; therefore, one can overlook the minor grammatical errors, misspellings or typos that may pop up, occasionally, as the story is quite compelling. There is a long list of characters, which can be confusing at times. Yet, this adds to the depth of the plot. Get ready, because Michael Davies takes you on an intense thrill ride of innocent citizens being murdered, powerful criminals in high-ranking positions controlling aspects of the CIA, DEA and Congress, secret organizations trying to gain control and closets filled with skeletons. If this storyline doesn’t put fear in your heart, it will most likely make you intensely angry. Either way, the concepts in The Janus Conspiracy will have your mind spinning with the possibilities. Will America survive this upheaval? Is it possible that this could happen in real life? Or…is this just a fascinating tale to sit back and enjoy? If you enjoy reading thrillers and stories that make you think, then this book is for you.


Crimson Gold by Donna Kolling Lear

Four people are dead – three have been brutally murdered, and the fourth appears to have killed himself after killing the others. But something is amiss; the facts just don’t add up. Why would Elias Franks kill himself in the middle of cooking dinner? And how on earth did he end up with two fatal gunshot wounds in his head? Suddenly, this simple open-and-shut case isn’t so simple anymore; and there are dozens of questions to answer before it can be closed. ‘Crimson Gold’ by Donna Kolling Lear carries readers to 1939 Dutch Hills, Alaska, to follow this mind boggling mystery as it unfolds. Based on true events from the author’s family history, the story tracks every step of the investigation into the murders of gold miners Harmon and Zelda Johnson; their worker John Brady; and their less successful mining competitor, Elias Franks. The names of the characters have been changed to protect the identities of those involved – and very well they should be, because no person, living or dead, would want to own up to the gruesome acts and loathsome motives recounted in Lear’s debut work. The novel finds four victims dead as a result of one man’s sinister plan. At the outset, his identity remains unknown, though, from the get-go, his motives are quite clear. It’s all about the gold. But who is this man – and who else was involved in his plan? Local probate judge Bob Maywood and US attorney Joe Keith are determined to find out – and so are Harmon’s two surviving brothers, George and Ron, who travel from California to the territory of Alaska to find answers and settle Harmon’s estate.

‘Crimson Gold’ is an enthralling story of deception, broken families, and palpable greed. The storyline is thoroughly captivating and remarkably real, making it difficult to put the book down without reading one more chapter. But one more chapter turns into another, then another, and, before you know it, you’re hooked, not just by the gripping plotline, but also by the simple eloquence, nostalgic undercurrents, and intrigue with which the story is told. Without doubt, ‘Crimson Gold’ is a novel that mystery lovers will love to read.


Surrender by Jennifer Burrows


What would you do if you walked in on your husband-to-be with another woman? For New York City food critic Katherine Anderson the answer is simple – head to Europe solo. Determined to move beyond her broken heart she heads to Italy, turning what should have been her honeymoon into a grand European adventure. However, her plans to taste her way through Italy and visit the historic sites she’s always dreamed of are cut short when she meets Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome on a bus in Florence. Now, instead of playing tourist in Rome, she finds herself caught in the middle of a feud involving the Italian mafia, olive oil, and a man she just can’t walk away from. The good girl has finally found her adventure – but will it come at the price of her life?

Surrender is equal parts romance and mystery. From the first chapter Burrows sets the scene for an unexpected mystery that keeps the reader in suspense throughout the novel. Perhaps the most interesting and unexpected part of Surrender was the details pulled from real life – the Italian mafia does control a portion of Italy’s olive oil business. This set the novel up for success as the mystery truly came alive with such a unique setting. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the romance portion of the novel. From the beginning, the relationship between Tony, who is literally described as Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome, and Katherine felt stereotypical at best. Despite Burrows best efforts, the relationship never truly developed beyond sexual attraction and, at times, it was difficult to see why exactly Katherine trusted him so blindly. Fortunately, it was easy to see where substance could be added to the relationship and as this appears to be the first in a series, hopefully this is an issue that will be worked through. Regardless, Surrender is worth reading – just do it for the mystery, not the romance.


The Hedge Fund by Burton Hersh

The Hedge Fund is a book by Burton Hersh that delves into the world of possibilities that happen when blood and money combine. It surrounds the Landaus- Sylvan, Louisa, Michael, Wendy, and Carol, a well-to-do family living in St Petersburg, Florida after daughter Wendy marries into the Cruz family. Ramon and his son Enrique (Ricky) managed to escape from Cuba and have made a rather successful life in America. The new in-laws convince the Landau patriarch to invest in a hedge fund promising immense profit once Castro releases his hold of Cuba. Eventually Sylvan has second thoughts and wants to pull out, but in time he finds that is easier said than done. Ramon has connections everywhere- from the Bush family to the mob- and uses everything he has at his disposal to make sure this does not happen. The narrator of the story is Michael, the oldest child and only son. He is a lawyer in charge of the family estate and all of its holdings, and was never completely comfortable with the agreement. He managed to put in as many legal safety nets as he could while reviewing the contracts, and once things seem to start going south the family plans to use them to get their properties and investment back. Throughout the main story there is also another smaller story- the relationship between him and one of his tenants, Linda. She has something he needs, something he can’t quite put his finger on, but he is drawn to her in a way he hasn’t been drawn to anyone. Linda is 100% Comanche and her brother, Sonny, decides to help Michael and his family by using his skills as a tracker and investigator.

The Hedge Fund has a little bit of everything in it. It starts off as a family drama with some social comedy and as the story progresses it seems to turn more into a thriller. The romance between Michael and Linda is believable and adds to the story instead of detracting from it. This book is well written and keeps you absorbed on every page. The more you read, the more you want to read! Especially once the dynamics of the family change and Sylvan and Michael pull out of the fund, you are sucked into wanting to know what is going to happen next. The characters are well rounded and fully developed. You become invested in them and the story almost immediately. There are a few places where it runs a little long and a little slow, but mostly it is just a great book! Love, money, family, deception, intrigue, and so much more- The Hedge Fund has everything you need.


Death in the Form of a Woman by Francesca Santana

four stars

Death in the Form of a Woman by Francesca Santana is a short, scandalous story about a Hispanic family whose comfortable dynamic dramatically declines when a sexy young housekeeper enters their lives. At first, Teresa Cruz seems to be the answer to the Rodriguez family’s prayers…and the girl of hard-working patriarch Raul Rodriguez’s dreams. But after she finds her way from making the couple’s bed to lying in it with Raul, Teresa proves to be a nightmare. Raul’s passion for Teresa is replaced by concern and admiration for his wife Cecilia, when Cecilia is forced to confront serious medical issues, and Raul tells Teresa their affair is done. Scorned by his decision, Teresa sets out to exact her revenge – she’s determined to punish Raul and show Cecilia what it’s like to lose the love of her life. Teresa does, indeed, accomplish these goals, and, as the final chapters of the story unfold, her truly twisted nature is exposed.

From start to finish, Death in the Form of a Woman is a quick and intriguing read, though the rapid pace of the story makes it a little farfetched at times. No sooner than Teresa starts working for the family, she and Raul begin their affair, which isn’t so shocking, perhaps, but for the fact that they instantly discuss love and Raul leaving his wife. So too, the story seems a bit contrived when it comes to the couple’s dealing with their oldest daughter’s pregnancy and secret relationship with a coworker. They immediately embrace her condition and circumstances without any surprise, alarm, or reservation, which, let’s face it, isn’t really how things go down in the real world. Despite these plot weaknesses, however, Death in the Form of a Woman still shines in several spots. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at the imperfections of a family that appears perfect on the outside and gives readers a glimpse into the strange workings of the criminal mind. It also shows how, sometimes, “the help” can hurt, and how the greatest dangers often go undetected right under one’s nose.


Portrait of a Prisoner by Martin Line

“Don’t cry over spilt milk” – it’s a phrase we’ve all heard and all said. But what happens when it isn’t milk that spills, but, rather, beer instead? ‘Portrait of a Prisoner’ by Martin Line finds twenty-something dockworker David Cuthbertson on the woeful end of a tipped pint. When a group of wealthy, out-of-place university students make a ruckus at a local Manchester pub, one of them knocks over David’s coworker’s beer and refuses to buy him another. A hellacious fight ensues, and David ends up punching one of the boys square in the jaw. After a routine police call to the scene, that bloke later ends up dead, and David ends up behind Her Majesty’s prison walls, serving seven to ten on a questionable manslaughter charge. David quickly learns the ropes, however – and, in no time, is climbing them. He ascends to a position of power within the prison, not by abandon or brute force, but because of his incredible intelligence, strong sensibilities, and compassion toward the other men. Even the guards take notice of David’s astonishing attributes, and so, too, do visitors from the outside world. When David is interrogated by the police for complicity in another crime, his honesty and uncanny insight turn him from a suspect into an asset, and he gets unexpected help from a woman with an exceptional gift that enables her to see something to which justice had been blind.

‘Portrait of a Prisoner’ is a multi-layered piece that involves poignant plot points other than those mentioned above. Like a painting, it is rich with both dark and light hues that come together to tell a full story greater than any single shade could tell. From domestic violence, mental illness, jealousy, and revenge, to young love, artistry, genius, and getting what one deserves, it explores the totality of David’s circumstances and exposes both the beauty and chaos of his life, including the secrets buried in his past and inner self, as well as in his backyard. A clever and compelling tome, ‘Portrait of a Prisoner’ is, put simply, well worth the read.


Stacy’s Story by John Blenkush

John Blenkush’s novel Stacy’s Story is a harrowing depiction of one woman’s journey through hell on Earth. Up until her trip to Kettle Rock, Stacy Freeman is happy with her life. She is strong, healthy, and married to Cory, a man who loves her in spite of all things. He is truly her better half, the man that she knows she will start her family with and take care of in old age. All of this is changed when Cory is violently taken from in front of Stacy’s helpless eyes. Stacy is then abducted by Cory’s seemingly emotionless and conscienceless murderer and forced to confront the very limits of just how much she can endure. Stacy’s strength, both physical and mental, is almost broken during her time on Kettle Rock. However, when Stacy discovers that she is pregnant with a child that could belong either to her husband or to a murderer and rapist, Stacy must again reflect on the things that have happened to her and find the strength of self and soul to live again.

Stacy’s Story is the horrifying account of a life event that every human wishes to avoid at all costs, even if it is only in a book. Beaten, raped, and with the one that she loves most taken from her, Stacy must push through the confusion and hurt to find if her love for life is enough to keep her going. What if it is not? Is the criminal justice system a place for hearts that have not just been broken, but mutilated and distorted beyond recognition? Where is the line between human and animal? Stacy’s story brings to light many questions that are not for the faint of heart but also emphasizes that perhaps our hearts are not as faint as we may initially believe them to be.


Angels of Deceit by Nicholas Clark

The treacherous life of an aging international spy is on display in Nicholas Clark’s plot-heavy thriller Angels of Deceit. Jack Malaney has a few problems, primarily the amount of people that want to end his life. The British agent encounters trouble in Corfu, Greece and reconnects with a slick German from the past that can either change his life for the better or send him six feet under. It’s not an easy task to admit past mistakes and Jack travels across the globe in search of truth, as devastating as it may be.

Storytelling comes naturally for Clark. The precise details of each scene bring Jack Malaney to life along with brilliant phrasing and the author’s knack for comedy. Each character is developed slowly while the shifting of time creates just the right amount of tension as enemies collide. Clark also keeps the reader guessing with shocking, and often violent, twists. The flow of Angels of Deceit moves from dialogue to setup and the text never feels heavy or a burden to read. Clark has created quite an exciting world around Mr. Jack Malaney, however the decision-making of the agent may cause readers to occasionally scream out in frustration. For a man who relies on deceit to make a living, he often appears oblivious to the fact that he could simply be killed long before he finishes his recon. Clark does a fine job of explaining Jack’s decisions, but a couple chapters could have been extended while some of the agent’s past training missions, particularly one involving an airplane, could have been tightened up. In the end, the reader will want to know more about Jack Malaney and Nicholas Clark concludes his novel exceptionally.


Beneath the Surface by Mike Martin

Beneath the Surface, by Mike Martin, is a murder mystery novel set in Newfoundland, Canada. The action starts, on the first page, with the murder of Amy Parsons who won a rowing championship a month prior to her death. The protagonist Windflower is responsible for handling the murder case. An unexpected visit from his Uncle Frank frustrates Windflower to the point, where the uncle feels unwelcome and leaves. Shortly after, Windflower learns that the sex trafficking rate is increasing and that his uncle has been hospitalized after being mugged. As the mystery unfolds, $5,000 cash was found in Amy’s luxury suite and she had another $17,000 in her bank account leading readers to believe she was involved in sex trafficking. Her roommate, Mercedes Dowson, went missing. However, they later found her dead body in a forest. The story is packed with subplots and suspense to keep readers on their toes.

While I commend Mike Martin for tackling some serious Canadian topics, such as sex trafficking, sexual harassment, and life for aboriginal Canadians, at times the story has holes that are hard to ignore.  The use of dialogue exposition was also sometimes excessive, as it over explained to the reader who was talking, when it was usually rather obvious. Nevertheless, the plot for this mystery novel starts out with a bang, as a terrible murder is described on the first page. Martin delves right into the action, causing suspense and intrigue from the very beginning. He goes right into it, causing the reader to wonder what happened before the scene we read, to lead to the death of the unfortunate murder victim.


Loss of Innocence by William Eisner

Who is Rene Lambert? The answer, wrapped in William Eisner’s Loss of Innocence, may be difficult to surmise, and will certainly surprise you. Part business wizard, part con-man, Lambert rides a wave of meteoric success on the back of his company American Electric, all the while his fraudulent financial moves mount behind him. That’s not the full story, however. With American Electric, the charismatic Lambert hopes to build a company that caters to the needs of his employees, their families, and the community; a company with a heart. Told from the point of view of Lambert’s impressionable head of finance, the story follows Lambert’s rise, its climactic consequences, and those closest to him. Fleurette, Lambert’s clairvoyant daughter, finds herself mixed up in an underground cult; Gladys, his wife, is swept into the heat of his actions as Lambert’s empire begins to crumble. Throughout, your picture of Rene Lambert may shift and build, but the quote from Daniel Defoe Eisner has chosen to open the story perhaps puts the character most appropriately, “This Sir, is an Age of Plot and Deceit, of Contradiction and Paradox… It is very hard under all these Masks, to see the true Countenance of any Man.”

Eisner’s prose is at once lyrical and intense, filled with original imagery and swift moving action. The story moves at a high, readable pace and will not leave the reader wanting for much. His ability to create realistic and relatable characters should be noted as a high point. They seem able to leave the page at will. But the moral quandary is the crux at the heart of the story- although Lambert commits an series of immoral, dishonest actions, does it (or will it) matter, since it was done in the name of a decent cause? Or, as the title suggests, will his actions cause Lambert more pain than he first bargained for? Thought provoking, thrilling, and highly entertaining, Loss of Innocence is not only for the business savvy but for anyone ready to watch Lambert cast a spell over the ledger books and see if he can get out from under their undeniable shadow.


Blue Eye by Tracy Elner

Blue Eye by Tracy Elner is a riveting conspiracy thriller that combines elements of science, mystery, romance, and adventure. The narrative follows the story of London-based derivatives trader, Scott Carty, as he travels to Kazakhstan under the direction of his boss to deliver an unusual locked briefcase. Scott has been having strange dreams quite frequently, and as his mission progresses, his dreams begin to bring about a startling amount of clarity to his real life. It’s not long before he becomes entangled with the stunning Lena Isotova and discovers the truth about his boss’ secret business, which puts in motion an uncontrollable chain of events, bringing forth a life changing energy technology that could alter everything we have ever known. As Scott comes to face the truth, he is chased by assassins who aim to stop him from revealing the secrets of the mysterious technology they are trying to protect.

Part international intrigue, part science fiction saga, this story escalates quickly from page one and doesn’t stop until the very end. The first of a planned trilogy, the book causes the reader to wonder about technology, and how such seemingly unreal devices that we already have in our lives exist and function without our ability to fully understand them. The blending of different genres into this story seem at odds, with theories of physics and Dan Brown like clues and chasing elements all tied in together, but Elner has a gift for weaving them all together, in a way creating a new genre in the process that most readers haven’t experienced before. The plot is fast paced and the characters are developed well, as the scenes change from standard boardrooms to numinous Russian lands. While the book might sound like it is packed to the brim with all of the different components placed within its pages, the story is an enjoyable read that anyone will be able to tackle.


For the Love of Ellen by Carla Shaffer Evans

For the Love of Ellen by Carla Shaffer Evans is a short story, or rather, a novelette, that tells the story of a heinous crime that two elderly widows commit, causing their town to react in horror as they learn the details of just how gruesome the act of manslaughter occurred. Blanche and Nellie have to face the consequences of their crime as everyone wonders if they committed murder in self-defense or in revenge for their dear friend Ellen, or if it was due to the victim’s strange and sadistic behavior as an outsider from Texas. The story goes over the case, but in the end the reader has to decide if the conclusion has offered real justice to those involved. As you read about the decades-long friendship between the well-drawn-out female characters, and how the evil greediness of an unknown man has torn their world apart, taking them to the brink, causing their actions to overtake them just as he overtook their quiet happiness, you’ll be hooked into the plot Evans constructs with the insane turn of events that lead to an unforgettable story.

This story contemplates the bond of friendship, and shows how it can be tested to the limits in times of distress. Evans has a skill for creating a fast moving plot that will keep any reader wanting more. The scenario at hand forces the reader to ask what they would do in a similar situation if they were forced with a nightmare like the kind that happens in this story. The short length does not take away from the richness of detail included within! This is an imaginative and well put together piece of fiction that deserves to be read.


Beyond Me…A Principal Mystery by Mary Sawyer

Mary Sawyer’s Beyond Me…A Principal Mystery begins with a brutal murder that seems to have no clear motive and an unlikely child criminal. As the story unfolds, Stella Page, the diligent principal of Edgewater Middle School, and Kate Barthorpe, a pregnant sergeant in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, become unlikely partners. The two women each do their own special kind of investigatory work to discover how a young indigenous girl named Lillian ended up covered in blood and holding a knife, seemingly the perpetrator of a callous crime. Sawyer’s novel paints a picture of how difficult life can be for individuals living in modern New Brunswick in a First Nations community. She reveals that these people are made to feel less than equal, facing racism and stereotyping on a daily basis. In spite of their trying circumstances, Stella and Kate are strong female characters, both hard working and independent. Through their exhaustive efforts, they solve a murder and help to tear apart some of the stereotypes that exist about gender and race.

Beyond Me…A Principal Mystery is an exciting novel with well-developed characters that one comes to know and love.  The humanness of Sawyer’s characters can make sections of the book difficult to read because the novel touches on a number of highly sensitive social issues such as drug abuse, child sexual abuse, and homicide. The novel should be read with both mind and heart braced for troublesome but meaningful conflict. Stella and Kate are excellent female role models as they navigate their way through the hardships that come when social work falls short and middle school and murder overlap.


Measure of Danger by Jay Klages

The trap of first-time authors: wanting to tell a story but failing to TELL the story. Jay Klages has no such problem with his debut novel Measure Of Danger. Kade Sims is a young but experienced military intelligence professional suffering from a psychological disorder known as hypomania. After returning home to Virginia, his quiet life takes a drastic turn when an FBI agent comes knocking at the door and offers a unique chance at redemption on the west coast. Kade learns what it means to be truly isolated amongst others, but also understands the power of technology.

The characters of Jay Klages are utterly believable from page one due to his outstanding detail. Kade Sims isn’t a man with clever sayings; he is someone with real problems. Klages succeeds by placing the reader in the proverbial room with the Sims and brings life to the story by describing the settings in full. A major victory of Klages is the ability to write dialogue, both personal and military, that can be spoken out loud and not sound ridiculous. The thoughts of Kade Sims are presented in a train-of-thought style and the introduction of military technology takes it to another level. Measure of Danger becomes so enthralling that it’s hard to believe Jay Klages hasn’t been publishing military thrillers for years. Unfortunately, the final chapters lose the detail and bulkiness of the middle sections, but most readers will be pleased by the swift action and overall depth of the characters. The military knowledge of Klages is clearly his bread and butter, but his overall style and attention to detail proves that he can write about anything that he wants to. And let’s hope that he does.


Cuzco (Book 2 of the Toltec Series) by Alex Walker

Cuzco new coverAlex Walker returns with the second installment in his Toltec series, entitled Cuzco, which is arguably even more entertaining than its predecessor.  Simon Murphy and Elijah Walker – who teamed up against all manner of dark and mysterious forces in Toltec – are at each other’s side once again, this time headed deep into the Andes Mountains in search of a treasure that shares a connection with the world-shattering discovery they made in Mexico several years ago.  Simon and Elijah are now inescapably tied to the fate of the human race, so it is up to them to lead another expedition down South and collect an artifact that is as likely pure legend as it is real.  But, of course, treasure hunting is never easy – the Americans are dogged their entire journey by a group of French mercenaries whose interest in the Peruvian prize is anything but academic.   If Simon and Elijah lose this race to the finish, it could easily spell extinction for mankind.

Walker’s Toltec series effortlessly combines aspects of science fiction, American folklore, historical fiction, and adventurism to create a story that is far greater than the sum of its parts.  Cuzco introduces readers to some new characters while bringing back many of our favorites from Toltec; it’s no small feat for Walker to be able to balance his novel among so many different players, stationed in cities and continents all across the globe.  In Cuzco, we get a true taste of the scale of destruction facing the human race, making Simon and Elijah’s quest for answers all the more desperate – and all the more crucial.  Oftentimes, historical fiction can be dry, lifeless, the story stifled by the author’s perceived duty to honor our nation’s forebears.  Walker manages to not only paint an accurate picture of the United States in the wake of the Civil War, but also to imbue his story with an effortless sense of humor and optimism that elevates Cuzco to a whole new level.


A Good Name by Lorraine Davies Knopf

A beautiful young woman from the Midwest relocates to New York City. It’s a classic storyline told many times over, but the debut novel from Lorraine Davies Knopf, A Good Name, offers a sweet blend of class and intrigue. Betsy Sanders is a successful model in The Big Apple, and her life takes an unexpected turn when she meets Neil, a dashing and somewhat mysterious lawyer. Despite the misgivings of Betsy bourgeois mother-in-law, a marriage ensues and the happy couple takes off for Venezuela and champagne baths. Money. Power. Respect. However, fate strikes down the idyllic marriage when Neil decides to board a late-night flight to Miami. Was the slick lawyer hiding a secret life or was Betsy the architect of a devious plan?

Lorraine Davis Knopf hooks the reader early on in A Good Name with an especially likeable protagonist in Betsy Sanders. It’s not an easy task to present an endearing character that is surrounded by money, fame and everything that one could ask for, and what makes Betsy unique is her slightly sassy yet grounded demeanor. The 1960s setting is evoked through the naivety and charm of Betsy’s dialogue, but Knopf also succeeds by making her somewhat naive once her husband disappears. A Good Name is bolstered by a strong base of supporting characters such as the lead investigator/romantic, John O’Brien, the parental lawyer Aaron and a few hilarious gentlemen that could be called The Kings of Comedy On A Train. The characters, despite plenty of room for development, all have memorable defining traits and thus move the story along. The dialogue occasionally suffers from The Cormac McCarthy Effect, meaning it looks good on paper but doesn’t always have the feel of how a real person would talk. Then again, Knopf was actually a New York City model in the 50s and 60s with the Ford Agency, and certainly knows her subject matter. A Good Name moves along briskly, has engaging characters and despite a lack of story build-up (the text is mainly dialogue), Knopf has crafted a reputable debut novel.


Zig-Zag by Leona Thor

Zig-Zag by Leona Thor is a fast-paced and gritty crime novel that takes the reader behind the scenes of homicides in Los Angeles and into the actual everyday life of Detective Madison Price. Thor’s Detective Price is a character that pushes back against the negative representation of law force that today’s media so frequently sells. Price is hard-working, honest, and dedicated to the protection of his community, his family, and the law. His loving relationship with Rayna Dupree and her daughter Brandii is heart-warming and makes him such an easily accessible character that he seems like someone you could become friends with while in line at the local Starbucks. On top of his genuine nature, Madison Price is good at his work. He has a tough and firm hand with criminals and a much softer side with victims, bringing fairness and justice to his city.

Zig-Zag is a fun book to experience and Leona Thor’s honest and engaging writing touches on so many topics that Zig-Zag can appeal to almost any reader. As Thor continues to write Madison Price detective novels, there will certainly be a marked increase in the connectivity of her thoughts and the flow of her writing, making each novel better and more cohesive than the one before. Readers should not expect all questions to be answered and all crimes to be solved, but should anticipate to follow the surprising zig-zag of real life, and be excited for what good things Leona Thor has in the works.


Toltec (Book 1 of the Toltec Series) by Alex Walker

1A Toltec new cover copy“Toltec,” which marks the start of an exciting new series from author Alex Walker, tells the story of Elijah Walker and Simon Murphy, two young officers caught up on opposite sides of the Civil War.  Walker, a Confederate, directs his team to ambush Murphy’s group, rumored to be carrying a cache of American gold worth thousands.  Preferring to work things out like true gentlemen, Simon and Elijah call a truce and quite unexpectedly learn that they are distantly related.  The two men, already weary from years of pointless fighting, decide to send their forces home while they themselves hightail it for the Southern U.S. border, planning to enjoy their new wealth on the warm beaches of Mexico.  But war has left the young duo restless, and when one of them overhears a local legend – which tells of a vast treasure hidden somewhere in the deep jungle – Elijah and Simon set out in search of an even greater fortune than the one they already hold.  The pair is soon joined by Santos, a Western-educated survivalist, and his beautiful sister, Rosita, whose presence drives both Elijah and Simon mad with passion.  Yet despite what they may think, Elijah and Simon’s treasure hunt has not gone unnoticed, and dubious forces are quickly organized to trail the group and steal their prize right out of their hands.  And along the way, the two sides will discover that the ancient horde they both seek is more valuable – and dangerous – than they can even imagine.

This novel strikes quite the same tone as works of film like National Treasure, Indiana Jones, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” which makes it a constant delight for fans of stories where the journey itself is the story.   Elijah and Simon start off enemies in a national conflict, but fast become friends – nearly brothers.  Their expedition is filled with equal parts adrenaline, as new obstacles and adversaries are introduced periodically throughout the story, and humor:

“There are three things to worry about in this jungle,” warned Santos.  “First, wild animals and poisonous snakes; second, an occasional bandito; and third, the jungle itself. Here a man and horse can be swallowed up in quicksand and completely disappear. They also say the jungle is full of many evil spirits.”

“I don’t know about evil spirits,” Elijah said, “I do know one thing… I hate snakes.”

Chock-full of quicksand, piranhas, snakes, crocodiles, molten lava, and tribes of angry jungle natives, “Toltec” is a fantastically well-paced and riveting work of adventurism that will leave you hunting for its sequel.


Energy Dependence Day by Christian Burton

20709616Forced to flee their home in Kabul, Afghanistan, ten-year-old Husam’s family finds tragedy before they can find freedom.  Husam’s parents are killed in a U.S. air strike, while Husam finds himself spirited away by Al Qaeda forces – the very group that was the air strike’s target – where he becomes the unlikely protégé of a high-ranking Al Qaeda leader.   Al-Faruq is a young member of the Saudi military whose parents were lost years ago to sickness.  When a botched military skirmish results in Al-Faruq’s reassignment to law enforcement, the newly minted detective begins investigating the actions of certain terrorist groups working in Saudi Arabia.  Husam narrowly escapes capture during a police raid on an Al Qaeda information cache, after which he relocates to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to help assist (and spy on) the imam at a prominent mosque.  Through various means, both men find that they have become entrenched in a terrorist plot against the United States, their every action determining whether the plot will be a success or a failure.

Christian Burton’s debut novel, “Energy Dependence Day,” draws readers’ attention to a region of the world of which many Americans remain woefully ignorant.  He captures not only the positive aspects and traditions of Middle Eastern society, but also many of (what Westerners consider to be) its negative aspects, including the social confinement of women, excessive corporal punishment, and the presence of a unifying but highly restrictive religion.  But by balancing this with rich, lush descriptions of both Saudi city and desert – and by peopling his environs with conflicted yet morally upright characters – Burton creates a deep-hearted novel that serves as a refreshingly unbiased examination of political and social conflict between the Middle East and the United States.


3 Auditions by Colin Juvonen

400000000000001083120_s4In tight, terse prose, 3 Auditions relates the story of Emory Mann, a screenwriter from California who finds himself the unwitting instrument of a corrupt near-future U.S. government called simply “the New Republic.”  Emory’s daughter, a young and outspoken activist, has been missing for several years, though Emory continues to be plagued by numerous inquiries into his daughter’s political affiliations and subsequent disappearance.  Now widowed and childless, Emory is tapped by an obscure branch of the New Republic’s regime to produce a series of films – ostensibly propaganda – in return for his daughter’s amnesty.  As Emory jets around an eerily altered American landscape, he slowly becomes entrenched in a political war that is far darker than he first imagined.

This novella from Colin Juvonen offers just a brief taste of a compelling and frightening future where class warfare takes on a very literal meaning.  Here, Juvonen has illuminated a world where elitism runs rampant throughout the government, and the people have been left voiceless in the wake a political coup in which very few of them played a part.  While not strictly dystopian, 3 Auditions offers a brief glimpse of our country as it transitions from something recognizable into an utterly alien totalitarian state, its purpose being to warn us that political change is often sudden and unpredictable, leaving many to wonder how things have gotten so grim.  The world Juvonen has created here deserves a deeper look and will hopefully be explored more thoroughly by the author at a later point in time.


Retribution by Mike Worley

In his first Angela Masters Detective novel, entitled ‘Retribution,’ author Mike Worley constructs a thrilling tale about how very wrong marriage can go when the husband is a selfish, money-obsessed psychopath. The narrative explores the acts of Butch Agenbroad, a guy who has been in trouble for as long as he can remember. He uses his smooth talking skills to find lonely rich women, sweeping them off their feet until they agree to marry him. Once the union has been sealed, he takes control of their finances, and before long, he’s gone, with every penny the woman has ever made. This all changes when he meets and marries Sharon, as she is not as easily walked upon as Butch’s other conquests have been. When she later divorces Butch, he leaves in a fury, seeking vengeance. And eventually, years later, he does, as he returns to murder Sharon and kidnap her children. And so the murder case begins, as Detective Angela Masters is assigned to the cause, following the trail of a cruel man, hoping to bring him to justice, hoping to fin the young girls he’s kidnapped, and bring them back to safety, alive.

Worley succeeds at creating a realistic crime thriller, as the crime itself and the case that follows are both depicted in a fully conceivable and realistic way. The difficulties the police have in finding the criminal and bringing him to justice are explored upon the page, as the reader can’t help but wonder how all of the pieces are going to come together. There are many twists and turns contained within the pages of this fast paced narrative, which causes the reader to continue reading with haste. Angela Masters is a strong female character with drive, grit, and tenacity. She is both relatable and the kind of character that you want to see succeed. In the end, this engaging novel concludes in a way that will satisfy the reader’s wishes, wrapping up an overall well-executed thriller.


Monster by Ben Burgess Jr.

Ken Ferguson has one simple desire, to live a carefree life with a beautiful woman at his side. However, as the harrowing and suspenseful story unravels in the thriller ‘Monster’ by Ben Burgess Jr., it is clear that things are never going to be easy for Ken. Bullied and harassed because of the color of his skin while growing up, Ken suffered as he sought out the affection of someone who would show him love, as his family life was anything but stable. Ken swore to himself that he would never be the womanizing, controlling man that his father was. But after he is cheated on and dumped by the love of his life, Ken undergoes a period of darkness that begins his decent into a territory of shadows. He begins to go on one night stands, sleeping with dozens of women with no care for their feelings or emotions. Eventually he falls for a girl named Ashley, but just as she gets him to drop his guard; she hurts him in an unequivocal way, causing Ken to spiral out of control, transforming him into a monster.

This book realistically explores what causes the human soul to be vulnerable, as Ken is damaged time and time again, regardless of the actions he makes. Burgess willfully narrates this tale in such a way that it almost reads like the autobiography of Ken, as if he is explaining his own weaknesses and why he acts out in the terrible ways that he does. The story is fast paced, and the descriptions of sex, partying, drinking and misbehaving are ever present, but they are depicted in a gritty and realistic way that works well for this dark tale. The dialogue is vibrant, and the characters who speak are fully formed, helping to shape Monster as a highly enjoyable read.


Ghost by Mike Worley

A murder mystery that starts off with a husband finding his wife brutally slain in their apartment, ‘Ghost’ by Mike Worley is a gripping case of whodunit. This is the fourth book in the series of Angela Masters Detective Novels, but the story itself stands alone as a thrilling tale of murder and betrayal. Angela is a fully developed and likable lead character, a strong and beautiful blonde woman in her late thirties. She has to be tough, as an officer in the violent crimes unit, but that doesn’t mean her potency is impenetrable. As she searches for the killer, the ghost who comes and kills women seemingly at random, only to vanish without a trace, Angela has to face her own demons in order to solve the case.

The author has a background in criminal law enforcement, and it is clear from the way the scenes depicting the case are described so intensely rooted in reality. Nevertheless, the journey to find the killer, although it goes cold for more than a year, is always hot on the pages of this novel, causing the reader to try to figure out who is the culprit before Angela herself even has the chance to. The suspense builds from chapter to chapter, culminating in an unexpected reveal at the end of the narrative that will shock the reader through and through. Worley clearly has a knack for developing a concise and chilling crime drama, and with his latest book, ‘Ghost,’ this sentiment remains true.


The Precipice Option by Alexander Kaufman

precipiceTowards the end of WWII, two trains sit at a platform in Budapest, one is full of twelve thousand people heading to Auschwitz, while the other train contains one thousand individuals who are heading to Switzerland. On both trains, everyone aboard is a Jew. The question on why these two trains are departing this way to such completely different destinations is only the tipping point of the narrative that takes place in ‘The Precipice Option’ by Alexander Kaufman. The story that unfolds across the pages varies in form and in setting, but the overarching theme of rebelling against the atrocities that took place during the 1940s on the European continent string together the narrative in a thrilling and concise way. At its roots, the story is a tale of human nature and how we aim to overcome the challenges we face, even when it appears that there is no hope left in the world, the characters presented in this lavish tale of war, rebellion, love, life, and death continue to strive on, vowing to never give up.

The untold events of WWII that are described in this book are vast, yet the author has the ability to focus on them in such a detailed way that it is possible for the reader to retain all of the information that is laced within the ink on the page, even though the book itself is almost a thousand pages. The facts that are revealed in this historical novel serve as a grounding point in what is otherwise a riveting page turning thriller. Kaufman has created a colorful cast of characters that range from friends to foes at every turn. If you enjoy fiction set up against the backdrop of history, then it will be hard for you to put this novel down, and even when you do, after you’ve finished it all, the loud thud the pages make when hitting their resting place will be similar in nature to how the story has impacted your brain.


Life by Justin Surd


This short novella, which the author subtitles as being ‘a mystery conspiracy, based on a true story,’ starts out contemplating the big questions of how we have all come to be alive in this world. It’s no surprise that the author, Justin Surd, chose the singular word ‘Life’ as the title of this narrative. Amy and Thomas bring their son Aaron into the world with many hopes for his future, but as the constraints of modern day life seem to surround them, they wonder if they will be able to provide for him in the way that they wish to. As he grows, Aaron doesn’t thrive or succeed in any specific terms, and his parents begin to worry that he will never reach his full potential.  The story is interlaced with ideas of philosophy and why things are the way they are, these very subjects sandwiching the story as the tale continues on. While people contemplate the notion that the end of the world may soon be coming, with talk of the Anti-Christ arriving soon, Aaron tries to find his way.

This shorty story aims to cover a lot of ground in only about fifty pages, and while it does succeed at bringing up interesting topics, it is bogged down by too many theories and information that is rather unorganized and randomly placed. The story of Aaron and his parents does not connect in the way it should to the other concepts and ideas that are described. While there are portions of the book that are enjoyable to read, the story would function much better if it was expanded and organized into more of a narrative, rather than a mixed up collection of seemingly unrelated stretches of text.


A Body of Work by J.M. Simpson

Best Book of the Month – October 2013

Gritty and gripping, J.M. Simpson’s ‘A Body of Work’ is the best piece of crime fiction we’ve yet to read this year.  The city of Melbourne is reeling after the unexpected murder of a controversial socialite, Deborah Dangerfield, hours before the release of her tell-all novel, which threatens to blow the lid off the city’s best-kept secrets. Brendan O’Leary, a brooding and abrasive detective, is assigned to solve the case, though his connection to the murder victim may be a bit more personal than he is willing to admit to his associates. Detective Constable Ange Micelli is the willful and determined daughter of Italian immigrants, and her expertise soon becomes invaluable to O’Leary has he moves to find Dangerfield’s killer before life in Melbourne’s high society spirals out of control.

Micelli and O’Leary are a star team, two conflicted detectives whose backstories are engaging and compelling. Simpson wisely parcels out her characters’ pasts in tasty morsels throughout her novel, which lends the story a much-needed air of novelty and discovery. And, as new information comes to light, readers may grow confident that they’ve successfully identified Dangerfield’s killer, but by pure literary sleight of hand, Simpson will throw them off the scent once again. The author has also spent a great deal of energy getting the tone of her novel just right, using urban Australian slang that requires some acclimation for American readers but is absolutely essential to the pervading feel of the story and must be rewarded for its accurate depiction of Australian culture. Ultimately, ‘A Body of Work’ is a headily atmospheric whodunit that paints a vivid picture of urban Australia, combining well-constructed description and abbreviated prose to create a hectic, heart-pounding narrative that will have readers guessing all the way until the novel’s very end.


Countenance by Joy Ross Davis

Now is the time to read ‘Countenance,’ the first novel from author Joy Ross Davis. It weaves a tale that is by turns both warm and chilling, just like an early October evening.  ‘Countenance’ is the story of thirty-eight-year-old Nealey Monaghan and her struggle to reassemble the pieces of her life after her family is murdered by someone who was once close to them.  Fragile and shell-shocked, Nealey is invited to live with her Aunt Sylvie at the Playhouse Inn Bed and Breakfast in Highland, Tennessee.  Sylvie is the proprietress at the inn but her double duties as home chef and cookbook author often pull her away from the Playhouse for days at a time, so she decides to turn the keys over to Nealey, hoping that the hectic pace of daily life at the inn will be able to turn the grieving mother’s mind from the horrors of her past.  But Nealey soon finds that the Playhouse Inn houses a few horrors of its own, its many mysteries gradually revealing themselves as she explores both the inn’s rooms and its troubled history. Even so, the young widow discovers that she has help from higher up and some very astonishing friends staying with her.  And perhaps Nealey will also find the ability to love again after re-discovering the beauty of life and of the unknown.

‘Countenance’ is such a comforting and heart-warming tale, and readers will fall in love with the novel’s leading ladies, Nealey and Sylvie, who really are strong and extraordinary women.  Not to mention that the love between them is so palpable it all but brings this story to life.  Plenty of other surprising characters populate this novel’s pages as well, some of them being more – or less – than they seem, and you’ll get a chance to meet them all. While ‘Countenance’ is a relatively brief read, it contains a heavy helping of life lessons that will surely leave readers feeling emotionally sated.


River of Scorpions by Keith W. Reiss

Keith W. Reiss returns with another rollercoaster of a novel, ‘River of Scorpions,’ which serves as an indirect sequel to ‘The Gemini Conspiracy.’ Ginny Blaine and Glen Cannon, having barely survived the treacherous events of ‘Gemini, ’ are back again in this intelligent tale about a troubled America and the corporate behemoth, ARLNAT, that threatens to put millions of our country’s elderly into an early grave.  Using nothing but cool wits and seduction, the pair takes on an array of foes that seem to come at them from all angles, trying to hamstring their investigation into ARLNAT’s dubious underpinnings.  The stakes are high for Ginny and Glen as they shine a light into the shadowy corners of corporate corruption on a journey that will take the pair further from home and deeper into enemy territory than they have ever been before.

Showcasing a great deal of Reiss’s formidable literary talent, ‘Scorpions’ also contains a few new surprises, like the handsome conman, Eddy Logan, who helps Ginny navigate her way through a nest of traps and enemies.  Readers will also get a taste of new locales and cultures – principally the colorful lands and peoples of Belize – with descriptions so vivid and skillfully crafted that Reiss’s workmanship really shines through.  And, while a prior reading of ‘The Gemini Conspiracy’ isn’t strictly necessary before diving into ‘River of Scorpions,’ I recommend it, if only so that readers can have a chance to savor Reiss’s work in its entirety. Like the river this novel takes its name from, ‘Scorpions’ is swift and utterly gripping.  This is one journey that will leave you breathless.


The Unholy by Paul DeBlassie III

When Claire Sanchez is only five years old, she witnesses the murder of her mother in an extremely brutal fashion. This horrible act sets up a life of mystery, as the killer is never caught, causing others to claim that perhaps Claire imagined the dark hooded figure who ended her mother’s life. Twenty years later, Claire can’t help but wonder if it’s right for her to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a medicine woman too. The spirits send her warnings of something foreboding approaching in the distance, but Claire is unsure what she should do. Her journey of self-discovery leads her to uncover secrets along the way, her trajectory leading her towards a fight to the death in a battle against an evil Archbishop. The reader will not be able to help but be enraptured within this magical tale as Claire struggles with fate, as she tries to hide her true nature even though she is so obviously gifted. In the end, Claire must  not only do what is right and choose her own path, but she must also forge ahead and carve out a place for herself in which she can avenge her mother’s death.

The mystical novel, ‘The Unholy’ by Paul DeBlassie III is jam packed with native folklore, dreams and magic coming from all directions, which lead to the sadness and mystery that lures Claire, the heroine of the story, into a realm of discovery. The narrative of this book is fast paced and easy to read, coming in at only two hundred pages. At times the various explanations and back story got a little bit repetitive, but these elements were crucial in understanding the overall arc. Claire is a strong female character, who has to not only fight against others, but also herself. There are so many components that made this novel unique, such as the setting of Aztlan, the Native American beliefs, religion, magic, and the overwhelming dark forces present. DeBlassie succeeds at telling a riveting story with an inventive narrative that carefully intertwines cultural and romantic elements into the good vs. evil fight, which pulsates throughout all the pages of the book.


The Hunted by Peter Clenott

Best Book of the Month – September 2013

The steamy jungles of Brazil – and all of its many hidden secrets and dangers – come alive in this action-packed adventure from Peter Clenott.  “The Hunted” tells the story of Suyape, a young and confident woman, and the last surviving member of a forest-dwelling tribe known as “the Ipanao,” whose mysterious genetic origins have puzzled scientists since the tribe’s initial discovery over a decade ago.  After her mother’s death, Suyape is adopted by an idealistic couple from Brazil and spends her childhood as a citizen of the United States, far away from the rainforests where she was first born.  Now, at the cusp of young adulthood, Suyape realizes that the Ipanao may not be as dead as she once thought.  What’s more, they appear to be calling out to her, across continents and across time.

“The Hunted” was such a pleasure to read, thanks to its winningly plucky protagonist and the great care that Clenott has taken to convey the Brazilian rainforest’s myriad inhabitants, both benign and otherwise.  The novel’s various themes – for example, the importance of family, the give and take between nature and human industry, and the unfailing, but sometimes reckless, progress of science – are sure to resonate with readers young and old.  In addition, Clenott does a great job of setting up drama early, so that by the time Suyape grows aware of her own predicament, the reader has already become familiar with the many obstacles set against her.  All in all, “The Hunted” is a fine book that will draw you into its expertly imagined world and inspire you with its unbridled optimism.


Tianmìng – Mandate of Heaven by Adolphus Writer and Nomi Smith

In the not too distant future, the world is falling apart at the seams, which is depicted in the political thriller, ‘Tianmìng – Mandate of Heaven’ by Adolphus Writer and Nomi T. Smith. This fast paced novel tells the story of Michael Babbage, a freelance reporter who is hired to document and analyze what is happening to the civilization of man. Between the political conflicts that have arisen and the natural disasters that are destroying the balance of society, there is not much to hope for besides an alternative to the failing situation at hand. The United States is a nation at unrest, but due to the strong will of President Moses Orestes, he refuses to let his people give up on the nation that he cares about so dearly. When Yellowstone erupts, half of the United States population has to move to Canada, while elsewhere in the world weak governments are taking advantage of the fact that other formerly powerful states are falling apart. Nuclear explosions are also reshaping the Asian continent, as Michael strives on to find answers on how to stop the ongoing calamity from continuing.

It is clear due to the complexities of this book that a lot of work was put into the creation of this story. Not only is it thought provoking, but the characters and the situations that they are thrust into are a joy to read. The descriptions of the United States falling apart alone are very chilling, but to think of our entire world failing so helplessly during such an unmanageable point in time is rather frightening. The characters are all well developed and by the end of the narrative things start to weave together in a pleasing and surprising manner. Although the natural disasters that occur seem a little bit farfetched, the reactions to them and the other manmade fiascos are plausible, given the other conditions that are occurring. Michael is a very likeable character, someone who the reader will be rooting for as he tries to figure out what is going on in this very unstable predicament that Earth has found itself in.


Devolution by Peter Clenott

This action packed novel is a thriller from beginning to end, tackling diverse subjects that include seemingly unrelated things such as chimpanzees, teenage angst, war, and racism with unparalleled ease. Devolution by Peter Clenott is an enthralling book about a young girl named Chiku Flynn who has the ability to communicate with apes. She spends her first years of life as part of an experiment, raised in the rainforest in a very unusual way compared with what most humans experience. After her mother’s death she is sent to the United States, but she is unable to adapt, her wild tendencies leading to erratic behavior which eventually calls her home to the jungles of Africa that she knows best. When she returns, she finds that life in the Congo is not at all peaceful, as the lives of the chimps she can communicate with are threatened by various forms of social upheaval, leading their fate hanging in the balance, forcing Chiku to do all she can to save the creatures she loves more than anything else.

This book succeeds in mixing multiple different elements in a gripping and unusual way, creating a story that is both original and a joy to read. Love, mystery, and suspense team together in the tale of Chiku’s rebellion, which takes place in the well-described setting of Africa, complete with the history of a country ravaged by war. As Chiku is discovering things about herself, the reader is confronted with the dilemmas she has to overcome in her journey to save her beloved chimps and recover her missing father. This book is by no means an easy read, but the only complications arise from all of the elements coming together, and since those very components are what make this story so compelling, it is hard to resist the story that Devolution tells.


The Gemini Conspiracy by Keith W. Reiss


Sex, science, and sabotage abound in this political thriller from newcomer Keith W. Reiss.  After a routine MRI scan turns up a previously unobserved scientific anomaly between a young pair of twins, NASA quietly launches a small research project to more closely examine the “Gemini Effect” and apply its findings to future space programs.  But soon the boys are whisked away by NASA’s more nefarious enemies, a group of turncoats and terrorists who intend to use the boys for a far darker purpose.  It becomes the task of Glen Cannon, an adulterous but fiercely intelligent genetics expert, and his tempting young assistant, Ginny Blaine, to follow the kidnapped boys’ trail and snuff out the growing terrorist threat before Glen’s enemies are able to enact their terrible scheme.  Along the way, Glen and Ginny are waylaid by a series of shocking discoveries and betrayals that threaten to end their very lives.

Reiss has crafted a well-told page-turner in the tradition of classic American spy stories. The Gemini Conspiracy boasts an impressive array of characters – scientists, spies, politicians – who all lend their voices to an interesting, fast-paced story that starts off simple but soon explodes into kaleidoscopic chaos after the full effects of the Gemini Effect are uncovered.  The novel centers on the thought-provoking concept of telepathy and explores the possible applications of such a significant scientific breakthrough in a polished and well-structured manner.  Reiss does an excellent job of juggling the novel’s focus between each of his characters, which serves to keep the action fresh and the conflict compelling.  What’s more, the chemistry between Reiss’ protagonists is so palpable that it adds an extra layer of taut and torrid emotion to an already thrilling tale.  Though the conflict is admittedly a bit difficult to follow at times – and a few of the characters’ motivations might have been explained more thoroughly – The Gemini Conspiracy will more than satisfy any reader’s taste for intelligent speculative fiction.


Psychiatryst by B. Michael Fett

Psychiatryst by B. Michael Fett is a novel that is tangled in a web of lies, lust, deceit and murder that meanders its way throughout its 300 pages so quickly that the reader who decides to tackle this tale will be gasping for breath by the time the conclusion comes. The setting of the story takes place in Denver, Colorado where multiple murders start to pile up with similar grisly details. Enter Sonny Thompson, the lead investigator to the case, who doesn’t have much evidence to go by. This all changes when Dr. Laura Hartwig enters the scene, helping along his investigation as she adds her own secrets into the mix. Add in a good looking pilot named Donovan as the unusual suspect, who is involved with the death of young girl and his further ensuing escapades with a sexy stewardess by the name of Josie, and you have the components of this nail biting and engrossing thriller.

What Fett does so well with this novel is create the kinds of characters that are hard to forget. The explanations that come are not based in the superficial, instead they are firmly rooted in reality as the demons of this book belong to the mental state of the people whose actions are described on the page. Anyone who reads this novel is bound to fall into the depths of the messed up minds of the characters who continue to make mistake after mistake. Secrets keep coming, and just when it seems all has been resolved and figured out, another revelation comes to light. Although the book does jump around quite a bit, the witty and dark tone of the story keeps the reader entertained. If you enjoy fast paced psychological thrillers with a touch of sensuality, then this is a fine choice for your next read.


The Field of Blackbirds by Thomas Ryan

When Arben Shala disappears, Jeff Bradley embarks on a mission to find him. Little does Jeff know, that he is going to uncover much more than what happened to Arben during his international expedition. ‘The Field of Blackbirds by Thomas Ryan is a gripping, fast paced thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, as you continue to flip through the pages of the novel, unable to stop your need to know what is going to happen next. Set mostly within the volatile borders of Kosovo, the action and danger is described in such a way that is great for this kind of story. The content is believable and written in a knowledgeable way. With the help of a beautiful woman named Morgan, Jeff must give it everything he’s got if he wants to find out what happened to Arben and make it out of Kosovo alive.

This book was great at interweaving international agencies and real life situations into the fabric of the story, creating an unnerving tale that fits together in all the right places. Even though the chapters themselves were short, the content included in each one bounded off of the pages as if you were right there running along the streets with Jeff and Morgan. Ryan does an excellent job describing the settings, and all of the characters are intricately developed, so that you are rooting for the heroes, and begging for the villains to receive the punishments they deserve. There is great depth to this story, as Ryan weaves together real life organizations and hostile situations into his novel with ease. Although this is a great feat, sometimes the material became a little dense. However, in the end, The Field of Blackbirds is an action packed thriller that you won’t want to put down.