Beginning January 1, 2013

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Parting Shot by Rekha Ambardar

Parting Shot by Rekha Ambardar
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (6 pages)
Heat Level: sweet
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

When the head of a scrap metal business is found shot in the head in his study, Detective Foster suspects there's more to the death than meets the eye. A work of super-short fiction from our Fingerprints mystery/thriller line.

This short story, Parting Shot, jumps right into a murder investigation. Detective Foster and his assistant, Carrie Goldsmith, arrive at the home of a well-to-do man, found shot to death at his home office. Who could want Bruce Carter dead? Clues are presented. Bruce’s wife Blanche finds him as he’s dying—that’s a clue, and there are physical things too, making it fun for the reader to try to figure out.

Bruce had an enemy, his ex-partner in business who left, disgusted with Bruce for his practices. Could it have been him? Naw—that would be too obvious. Or would it? Then there’s Bruce’s brother, Simon, who resents him. Could he be the murderer? His comments to the police are suspicious, and he seems to have motive. But so does Bruce’s ex-partner. Suspense is created.

This is a short story, so as expected, the setting is minimal. There’s just no room for much in a tale of this length. However, there is just enough. Also, character development is not expected in something this short, but it’s okay. The plot and the questions presented carry the story. This flash fiction piece has the proper beginning, middle, and end to be a complete story. It’s wrapped up nicely with a bit of a surprise. It’s fast-paced and can be read in just a few minutes. Parting Shot is a good little flash fiction mystery, and flash fiction can be hard to pull off, often being incomplete. Good job by the author.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hush Little Baby by Deborah M Piccurelli

Hush Little Baby by Deborah M Piccurelli
Publisher: Sword of the Spirit Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (246 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Investigative journalist, Amber Blake, is a little person bent on payback for the death of her average-sized twin sister. Enlisted by her former partner and estranged husband, Evan, she poses as a counselor in an abortion clinic to expose the doctor responsible for fetal harvesting. As a Christian, she struggles with concealing her beliefs to maintain her cover, while the doctor’s romantic overtures tumble her stomach. Amber agrees to date him for the sake of the story . . . but nothing prepares her for what’s behind a mysterious door in his office.

She’s there to avenge her sister’s death, but she might lose her own life while trying.

This author is not afraid to tackle an unpleasant subject. The story is set in an abortion clinic and that’s enough to create conflict between most people. Ms. Piccurelli makes her main character a “little person” who's an investigative journalist. Amber has her own secrets that adds to the flavor of the story. Her twin sister was average size and died from the doctor’s mistake during an abortion so Amber is willing to take on the doctor and the clinic. She has another secret, too.

The author adds Amber’s estranged husband into the mix to give it some romance and add more misunderstandings. This keeps the story moving on several levels and it flows very nicely. Evan is also a little person, so he develops some jealousy when the regular sized doctor tries to put the moves on Amber.

The author gives Amber a very dangerous tightrope to walk. She wants to get information and will do what it takes to get it, but the doctor makes her uncomfortable. Her instincts are right on. This clinic holds more secrets than what you see from the front.

The plot is intertwined with a bit of the past and the present. Ms. Piccurelli gives Amber challenges in both the office and in her personal life. This is good read that holds your attention and makes you wonder how it's going to end. I enjoyed it even if the subject matter bothered me. There are abortion clinics and I’m sure some of those doctors might be looking for extra money, too. Be ready for some unpleasantness. Whatever you do, don’t look behind the locked door into the chambers or you won’t want to go to sleep again…

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

House and Garden by Deb Victoroff

House and Garden by Deb Victoroff
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (27 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An isolated country house on a parcel of overgrown land refuses to be gentrified by a girl from the city who is gradually terrorized by the nature that surrounds her.

Elise, a socially awkward professional single woman finally buys a piece of real estate – a house with a garden – which she feels she can shape to her own desires. Her need to control her surroundings, her fatal flaw, will never be directed to a human partner. Instead she turns her energy toward taming nature.

An odd-looking real estate agent has sold her the parcel after the previous owners have abruptly abandoned the house, a bungalow with a creepily over-grown garden. As Elise attempts to weed and groom her property, it seems to fight against her. Bugs bite her, thorns pierce her, gardening tools are ripped from her hands and mysteriously disappear.

She feels the dislike of the townsfolk toward the city people who keep buying up the countryside only to domesticate it to city tastes. Are they behind the creeping dangers that assault her at every turn? Or is there some larger malevolent force in play?

It’s difficult to adjust to a new home, especially when one lives alone, has an overwhelming desire to control his or her surroundings and bizarre things still keep happening.

Elise is the kind of person who grows on you. At the beginning of House and Garden I found her a little too rigid and obsessive about the inconsequential details in life. In one scene she describes in detail the proper way to cut tomatoes for a salad and says uneven slices make her “lose her appetite.” Her deep emotional attachment to her dog, Solo, fleshes out and softens Elise’s character and by the end of the story she does become far more likeable.

Her halting adjustment to living in a small town brought a surprising touch of humour to an otherwise tense, suspenseful plot when Elise attributes the increasingly odd behaviour - for example, the pharmacist giving her medication with only her address, not her name, written on the label - of those around her to cultural differences between rural and urban life.

From Elise’s quiet, unnamed neighbour who always seems to show up when she’s doing something embarrassing like having a one-way conversation with Solo to her slightly overbearing real estate agent, Margaret. This is one of those rare books in which many of the secondary characters are as interesting as the protagonist.

Just enough information is provided to weave the plot together but several clues are fairly subtle and it’s ultimately up to the reader to piece them together. I was a little disappointed when the story ended not because I disliked it but because I really wasn’t ready to stop reading! In retrospect I understand why Ms. Victoroff structured it this way, though. Sometimes using less exposition makes a story much scarier than it might have been otherwise. It also easily sets everything up for a sequel if the author decides to write one.

If you’re in the market for a creepy story that will keep you up at night wondering what happens next I strongly recommend “House and Garden.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

So Pretty It Hurts by Kate White

So Pretty It Hurts by Kate White
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (317 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

True-crime journalist and sassy amateur sleuth Bailey Weggins has scarcely begun her hard-earned weekend getaway when something comes up: a dead body, belonging to one of the world’s most glamorous supermodels. Now Bailey’s trapped at an upstate New York home amidst the glitterati—and any one of them could be a murderer. She’s determined to find out who’s responsible, but her investigation could provoke the killer into striking again…

Smack dab in the middle of the frenzied tabloid and modeling industries that work to influence the thoughts and actions of people, Bailey Weggins falls into a quagmire of trouble without even trying.

Bailey, the crime reporter for the tabloid Buzz, just goes to have a fun weekend at a country house party, since she's feeling neglected by her significant other. When the honoree of the party ends up dead, Bailey’s inquisitiveness is not welcomed.

This is not the usual “who done it” mystery. Nobody even wants to believe it was “done”. They want to believe it was just a natural death. But Bailey, with her instincts and experience, doesn’t buy the idea of death due to an eating disorder and thereby ruffles feathers in high places.

So Pretty It Hurts, a first-person point of view story, is full of characters with lots of baggage—a lot of which is ”dirty-laundry” none of them want aired in public. My goodness, what an assortment of eccentricities as well as drug, alcohol, and sex use! All the characters seem matter-of-fact about all the excesses as if the whole world acts this way. Consequently, the reader needs to be super alert to pick up the clues, foreshadowing, subtle actions, and slips of the tongue to keep up with Bailey as she tracks down the culprit.

From the snowed-in countryside to the bustling streets of New York City and even to an out-of-the-way place in Pennsylvania, the reader sees the frenetic lives of a super model, a heavy-metal musician, a talent manager and his wife, a model booker, music producer, and writers who target celebrities as subjects.

Bailey’s personnel life is nearly as messed up as her professional life. Bailey and Beau Regan, who makes documentaries, have a relationship that lacks trust. Just which one of them is the most elusive and has the worst commitment phobia is questionable. As Bailey and Beau get together amid all the turmoil, they have issues, but sexual compatibility is not one of them.. however, getting past old, unhappy experiences and learning to trust are obstacles that must be addressed as they strive for a happy-ever-after.

Kate White’s incredible ability to keep the reader totally in the moment of the action, the suspense, and the mystery makes So Pretty It Hurtsengrossing. Her ability to weave in all the little details, tie up loose ends, describe heart-stopping action like being abducted by a gypsy cab or being trapped in a burning barn keeps the reader’s mind racing and adrenaline pumping. Her characters, flawed, needy, and so humanlike, make the story so believable and give the reader a look at a unique segment of society that intrigues. Excellent entertainment!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Red Girl by Luke Walker

The Red Girl by Luke Walker
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (289 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Sunflower

Geri Paulson killed herself ten years ago. Now her friends are about to discover why.

It’s been ten years since Geri Paulson’s suicide tore her away from her five closest friends and destroyed their friendship. Now her friends’ questions about her death will be answered. They’ve returned to their hometown in a desperate attempt to find out the truth of why she killed herself. But something more than grief haunts them. Geri has returned. And she’s not alone.

Trapped in a nightmare version of their town, Geri’s friends must run, hide, and kill to uncover the truth behind the terrible secret she kept from them. If they succeed, then they might have a chance against the evil that destroyed Geri. They might be able to bury it before it buries them.

But if they fail, Geri’s hell will be their new home.

Can you define hell? You could ask any person, in fact, ask multiple people, and they most likely would give you various answers. In The Red Girl, a group of friends looking for answers could be facing their own version of hell.

One tragic death sent these friends scattered about. Though they've moved on in their lives, one thing is a constant--the unanswered question why? With that lingering thought in their minds, it's time to confront the past and learn the truth.

Each feels as if they're losing their mind. The horror of the reality makes them rethink everything they've ever known. Stu, Karen, Mick, Andy. And a few others. All connected.

Mr. Walker's story is haunting and terrifying. It has all the elements a great horror/thriller should. There were times where it was hard to follow along, but other than that, I couldn't tear my eyes away. I was all sorts of spooked and expected something to jump out at me. The plot captivated and kept me on the edge. This is a "get up and make sure all your doors are locked" type of book. It takes your breath away and keeps tension on the rise. There were many surprises I never expected. The moment I thought I had things figured out, the author changed it up for an even bigger something I never saw coming.

Overall, the story is riveting, and keeps the pace steady. Through each character's point of view, readers are taken on a wild journey towards the truth. The Red Girl gets under your skin and the goosebumps spreading. If you're not afraid, hurry and get a copy of this story!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Just Shadows by Tara Fox Hall

Just Shadows by Tara Fox Hall
Publisher: Bradley Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (75 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

From the murky depths of a summer lake to the echoing halls of an insane asylum, evil lies in wait for victims. Innocents might escape by a hair’s breath, if they’re lucky. Then again, they might not. The shadows are waiting. Dare you step into the darkness and be judged?

Do you like being scared? If you do, this short story collection full of horror stories, many with wicked endings, might be your cup of tea.

This author was a new one for me and her writing grabbed me from the first story. I was not expecting such frank, uncensored evil in a very short story. Her descriptions take you into the story and hold you right there until you have to see how she handled the tale.

The stories range from tales about the end of the world, to monsters in the closet, to tales of vampires and life threatening situations. They are very succinct and succeeded in getting my attention quickly. Some stories could have been fleshed out more and contained more detail, which would have spaced out the horror and made the endings more of a shock. Still this author can write a good, edge-of-your-seat tale with a scary ending in amazingly few words.

Ms. Hall takes your worst nightmares and makes them come true on these pages. R. L. Stine writes “scary” stories for young adults, but I prefer this author’s style. She makes them sound believable even though you know they are fantasy. They are subtle, but grab you by the guts.

If you wish to share this with a young adult, I’d recommend it’s a mature young adult who won’t have nightmares. And, if you have nightmares, you might not want to read it either. True fans of the type of book that makes you hide under your covers will enjoy this anthology.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (416 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Dr. Maura Isles makes her living dealing with death. As a pathologist in a major metropolitan city, she has seen more than her share of corpses every day–many of them victims of violent murder. But never before has her blood run cold, and never has the grim expression “dead ringer” rung so terrifyingly true. Because never before has the lifeless body on the medical examiner’s table been her own.

Yet there can be no denying the mind-reeling evidence before her shocked eyes and those of her colleagues, including Detective Jane Rizzoli: the woman found shot to death outside Maura’s home is the mirror image of Maura, down to the most intimate physical nuances. Even more chilling is the discovery that they share the same birth date and blood type. For the stunned Maura, an only child, there can be just one explanation. And when a DNA test confirms that Maura’s mysterious doppelgänger is in fact her twin sister, an already bizarre murder investigation becomes a disturbing and dangerous excursion into a past full of dark secrets.

Searching for answers, Maura is drawn to a seaside town in Maine where other horrifying surprises await. But perhaps more frightening, an unknown murderer is at large on a cross-country killing spree. To stop the massacre and uncover the twisted truth about her own roots, Maura must probe her first living subject: the mother that she never knew . . . an icy and cunning woman who could be responsible for giving Maura life–and who just may have a plan to take it away.

As a medical examiner for a large city like Boston, what would be your greatest worry? Finding someone you know, on your table, ready for an autopsy, most likely. Dr. Maura Isles isn’t nearly so lucky as to simply find someone she knows before her, no, she’s presented with a dead body bearing her exact same face… and in front of her own home. The real question is, who is this woman and why exactly is she dead? That’s what Maura and her friend, Detective Jane Rizzoli, are charged with finding out.

Dr. Maura Isles comes a long way in this fourth Rizzoli & Isles novel. Before, she was almost a side character there to help Detective Rizzoli and her crew solve the murder of the day. However, in Body Double, you can see her friendship with Jane grow and become more than just a casual, working acquaintance, even if they’re not quite best pals yet. Also, as Maura digs deeper into her past trying to uncover the secret of this look alike, her personality really begins to shine. I loved learning more about what makes Dr. Isles who she is and in this book, she begins to learn what makes herself tick as well. It’s always an interesting journey when you’re learning as much about the characters as they are about themselves. She really became a more solid and real character for me here.

Detective Jane Rizzoli isn’t letting being pregnant stop her from getting her man. She continues to push forward in typical Rizzoli fashion, demanding, forcing, and grouching her way through her cases. I was anxious to see how the author was going to deal with Jane’s pregnancy in this book. Kudos to Ms. Gerritsen for not allowing Jane to wimp out and keeping her true to her nature. Instead, she pushed forward and let nothing get in her way. It was nice also to see her softer side when interacting with her now-husband, Agent Gabriel Dean. Their developing relationship gives the often caustic Rizzoli another layer of substance, making her an even more enjoyable character.

Each time I pick up the next novel in this series, I know I’m going to be treated to an exciting and yet sometimes gruesome story. Body Double more than delivers on that promise. So far, for me, this has been the most intense and enjoyable story of the series and I cannot wait to see what the next book holds in store for me. The added layers of Maura’s past increase the intrigue of the usual murder needing to be solved and makes it that much more personal, engaging the reader on a deeper level. I highly recommend this fourth book to anyone looking for an edge-of-your-seat thriller to keep them up at night.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Snow by Vella Munn

Snow by Vella Munn
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense
Length: Full length (234 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

A winter trip into the forest for four becomes a fight for survival.

Four people gather to close their remote mountain cabins. For the brother and sister, these days offer them an opportunity to come to terms with their nightmarish upbringing. The professional athlete must face the end to his career and try to find a purpose for the future. He brings with him a woman who shields her wounded heart beneath her perfect body.

Then the ferocious storm hits, trapping them far from civilization. Whiteout is a battle for survival. It also lays bare the complexity of human vulnerability, strength, and weakness.

As they fight for life, they're watched by the restless, lonely spirit that knows what it means to battle and lose. Four humans reach Wolf Lake.

Not all will live to leave it.

Caution! Read under a blanket sipping a warm drink in order to ward off the chill of Snow.

From the moment I started reading, an ominous feeling saturated the pages. Before the storm hits, Ms. Munn introduces Dayna, Park, Beacon, and Kandi. Each character is damaged and coping with the hurt in some way. Dayna and Park are still struggling to throw off the crushing influence of their domineering father. Beacon is an athlete whose body is failing him, but he hides an even greater injury to his soul. Kandi is beautiful on the outside, but the ugliness of her childhood has left her emotionally and mentally scarred. The persona each character presents to the world gradually begins to crack as they are put to the test and forced to face the ghosts of their pasts. It was both touching and painful to watch the layers of each character peel back. By the time the storm was at its peak, I had already come to care for this hodgepodge of a team and wondered who would make it out alive.

One of the most interesting things about Snow is that there are no villains. Nature is powerful, beautiful, and lethal all at the same time, but never evil. Each character makes choices that put them in danger. Even when they are staring death in the face, none of them blame nature. They scream and cry as they struggle, but they shoulder the responsibility for their actions. There are moments when Dayna and Kandi can’t help but admire the beauty of the snow even though it might very well freeze them to death.

Unlike many fast paced suspense stories I’ve read in the past, the pacing of Snow is steady, methodical, and relentless. I wasn’t racing through the pages, but I also couldn’t stop reading once I started. I simply had to know which characters were going to survive. I felt as if I was plodding through the snow next to them as they pushed their bodies beyond the point of exhaustion. I could feel the cold and fatigue creeping into their bones, and I was pulled into the atmosphere of the story so much that I needed to snuggle under a blanket as I read.

As much as I would have liked all the characters to survive to the end, I knew from reading the blurb that wouldn’t be the case. Even though I went into the story knowing there would be at least one casualty, it didn’t make the loss any less heartbreaking. I must warn readers that the injuries suffered by one character in particular are hard to take and certainly not to be read by anyone who is squeamish.

Snow is more than a story about a storm. It is a complex and intense tale of four people facing the biggest challenge of their lives and discovering what they are truly made of. The journey to the end of the story is a long and hard one, but I found the ending satisfying and I felt that many of the changes the characters go through are definitely for the better. Readers looking for a different kind of suspense should check Snow out.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cats Can’t Shoot by Clea Simon

Cats Can’t Shoot by Clea Simon
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (280 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

When Pru Marlowe gets the call that there’s been a cat shooting, she’s furious. Animal brutality is the one thing that this tough animal psychic won’t stand for, and in her role as a behaviorist she’s determined to care for the traumatized pet. But when Pru finds out that the cat did the shooting – accidentally setting off a rare dueling pistol – she realizes something else is going on. Could the white Persian really have killed her owner – or did the whole bloody mess have something to do with that pricey collectible? With the white cat turning a deaf ear to her questions, Pru must tune in to Beauville’s other pampered residents – from the dead man’s elite social set to their equally spoiled pets – and learn the truth before her ex, a former New York cop, gets too close. In a world where value is determined by a price tag, only Pru Marlowe and her trusty tabby Wallis can figure out if this was a case of feline felony – or if some human has set the Persian up to be the ultimate cat’s paw.

When Pru gets a phone call asking her to respond to a cat shooting, she’s prepared to deal with a traumatized cat. However, she’s not prepared to find the cop suggesting the cat was the shooter!

This author previously published Dogs Don’t Lie which was a very good mystery, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to review this Pru mystery. Ms. Simon has made her main character, Pru Marlowe, unique. She talks to animals. I don’t mean she watches and guesses what they might be trying to communicate. She can actually talk to them through mental telepathy. It’s a real asset to her job as a pet handler and trainer. Being able to hear any animal’s thoughts around her is a bit of a detriment, though.

One of the things I enjoy about Ms. Simon’s writings is she doesn’t make her characters bigger than life. Pru is not exceptionally smart, she’s dating questionable men, and her cat even gets mad at her for not knowing more. Being compared to a kitten is not a compliment. The author also made Pru very dedicated to her work and trying to solve mysteries, so she’s a good sort overall.

This story moves along fast with several characters being introduced. Since four of them are men that Pru has dated at one time or another, it quickly becomes entertaining. All Ms. Simon’s characters are a bit quirky. She gives you the very rich and the very gossipy and mixes them with the get-rich-quick and stalwart characters. With such a rich mix of characters, you can’t help but having fun reading this author’s work.

If you like animals, that’s a plus with this series. If you aren’t sure, this cozy mystery will keep you reading to see just how Pru manages to keep her nose out of trouble and if the killer is finally found. The engaging mystery was easy to finish in one night because I didn’t want to stop reading.

Why not get a copy of this book at your local bookstore and let Ms. Simon take you into the world of Pru and entertain you like she did me?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dark Inspiration by Russell James

Dark Inspiration by Russell James
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (266 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Sunflower

Doug and Laura thought they bought Galaxy Farm, but the old house is possessing them instead..

Doug and Laura Locke are New Yorkers who need a fresh start, so they move to Galaxy Farm, an old thoroughbred stable in Tennessee. There Doug finds inspiration to write his epic novel and Laura renews her love of teaching. They also rediscover the love that first drew them together.

But the home has many secrets. There’s a graveyard hidden at the property’s edge, and tragic deaths stalked the previous owners. Doug has become entranced by the abandoned taxidermy he discovers in the attic. And Laura falls under the spell of the ghosts of twin girls she meets in the old nursery. Only a local antiques dealer senses the danger. She has gruesome premonitions of horrible events to come. She knows she must convince Laura of the threat before the dark force in the house can execute its plan. But time is short, and something seems to be very wrong with Doug…

For some people, trouble seems to follow them wherever they go. For Laura and Doug, a new start was needed. How were either to know the dangers and strangeness awaiting them at their new home? Dark Inspiration takes the reader into a story of legends, ghosts, and a terrible darkness you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

The situations Laura deals with could break a lesser woman. Not Laura, though. She has a tendency to act first and consider the consequences later. Evenso, I admired this character's strength and willpower. I found myself rooting for her the whole time.

Doug is Laura's husband and the man drove me crazy. He comes off as emotionally distant in the beginning and I had hoped that their move would make things better. He only went down a dark path even further. Creepy and intriguing, his character drew me in even more.

While the pacing is strong, it wasn't fast. There were times the narrative drove down the pacing of the story, but the characters were what stayed true. Secrets were still to be uncovered about the house they lived in, and that was the drive for reading. Especially when strange things started happening.

The author creates an eerie setting in Dark Inspiration. Fans of the supernatural can expect a story filled with the unexplained and the unknown. The ending shocked me. Overall, the book was enjoyable and had me at the edge of my seat. The writing is so vivid I even jumped a few times at "sounds in the background". That's what I love about a good thriller with ghostly elements.

If you're a fan of the genre, love ghosts and are drawn to the supernatural, then do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book!