The Empty Rooftop by Lily MacPherson

The Empty Rooftop by Lily MacPherson
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (157 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Anya Jameson, FBI agent turned consultant, is working the most challenging case of her burgeoning career: a series of brutal murders in Cayce, North Carolina. The only thing linking the victims is that they all came from some of society’s most vulnerable groups of people and all were in search of new beginnings.

On a crowded New York street Anya stumbles into up and coming race car driver Tommi, who unexpectedly coaxes Anya out of years of solitude. But love and murder are not a good combination, and the investigation—or the killer—may tear the new lovers apart before they get the chance to build something together.

How would you catch a serial killer who knows how to cover his tracks?

I enjoyed seeing how much information the author was able to pack into the dialogue. Several of the hints about what was going on with the case were shared through conversations various characters had with one another. This fit in well with the fast pace of the storyline overall as it didn’t leave a great deal of time for mulling over what could be happening. There were so many other conflicts going on simultaneously that I completely understood why these sections were laid out this way.

Anya and Tommi were written so similarly that I had trouble telling them apart based on their personalities and speech patterns. While I definitely like it when two characters who are interested in each other share a lot in common, both women were alike in so many different ways that I wondered what they saw in each other. It would have been really helpful to have some examples of the ways in which they were different and how those differences could be complementary for this couple.

The string of grisly murders that the main character was trying to solve intrigued me. There weren’t a large number of clues about who the murderer was, but the ones that were provided were really juicy ones. I especially appreciated the fact that Anya was so skilled at picking out the ones she did. It was fascinating to see how she pieced certain ones together that I probably would have never thought to connect in that way. This part of the plot was nicely done.

Give The Empty Rooftop a try if you’re in the mood for a mystery that includes some romance.

Seduction in Session by Shayla Black and Lexi Blake

Seduction in Session by Shayla Black and Lexi Blake
The Perfect Gentlemen Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (400 pages)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Honeysuckle

Privileged, wealthy, and wild: they are the Perfect Gentlemen of Creighton Academy. But the threat of a scandal has one of them employing his most deceptive—and seductive—talents…

Recruited into the CIA at a young age, Connor Sparks knows how dirty the world can be. Only when he’s with his friends can he find some peace. So when an anonymous journalist threatens one of the Perfect Gentlemen, Connor vows to take down the person behind the computer, by whatever means necessary—even if it means posing as his target’s bodyguard.

Publishing a tabloid revealing Washington’s most subversive scandals has earned Lara Anderson the ire of the political scene—and a slew of death threats. To keep herself from ending up a headline, Lara hires a bodyguard, a man as handsome as he is lethal.

When the bullets start to fly, Lara is surprised to find herself in Connor’s arms. But as they begin to unravel a mystery that just might bring down the White House, Lara is devastated when she discovers Connor’s true identity—and finds herself at the mercy of forces who will stop at nothing to advance their deadly agenda.

Trust. It’s so hard to win and just about the easiest thing to lose. Unless you naturally believe in the innate goodness in all people and then you simply want to make the world a better place. But how do you get the attention of those who have the power to affect the needed changes? You create a tabloid blog and start naming names.

This is the second book in The Perfect Gentlemen series. The mystery that began in Scandal Never Sleeps continues into Seduction in Session. There’s a complete story that starts and finishes within these 400 pages but I can’t imagine not wanting to understand where it began so, I’d suggest reading Scandal first.

Connor Sparks left an indelible mark on this reader at the end of book one and I needed to see him redeemed. Lexi Blake loves a tortured hero and Connor fits the bill nicely. His background story sprinkled in throughout this book and the little taste of his youth at the beginning all meld together to make him someone I wanted to see happy. But could this hard core, kill ’em if I can’t use ’em, never let them see you vulnerable, Agency man find happiness, more importantly peace, with a tree-hugging vegan? I had my doubts but I should know better by know.

Lara Armstrong wants to save the world one tree full of squirrels and one tasty cow at a time. She doesn’t find them tasty but Connor sure does and so does her fugly (Connor’s word) dog. I liked Lincoln, he may be a shivering mess but he brought some necessary comedic relief to what could have been a really dark story otherwise. I liked Lara, too and she does end up being exactly what Connor needed. He gravitated to her light and didn’t even realize it at first.

The book flows smoothly and easily sets up the next in the series, Big Easy Temptation. This mystery just keeps taking on new layers and new players. I started trying to make guesses but there’s no way to know the direction it’ll ultimately take. So many paths!

Readers who want a healthy dose of intrigue with their redeeming romance should run, don’t walk, to the nearest retailer and get in on this series. The heroines are the right mixture of tough but tender and the men are the perfect combination of protective and push-over (not that they’ll ever admit that but, the women know). Bottom line, well worth the read and another fantastic series from these brilliant story tellers.

The Case of the Mahjong Dragon: And Other Russell Holmes Stories by James McEwan

The Case of the Mahjong Dragon: And Other Russell Holmes Stories by James McEwan
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (145 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

“A brisk walk in the Botanic gardens before breakfast stimulates the mind for a good murder.”

The Case of the Mahjong Dragon and other stories, takes us into the world of criminal investigations by the Victorian private detective, Russell Holmes.

Murder, assassinations and the rescue of a woman incarcerated in an asylum are some of the challenges Russell Holmes must resolve. During his investigations he shows contempt for the judicial processes that conflicts with his sense of moral justice.

This collection was inspired by a Shortbread Story competition based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In the mood for a good mystery?

A brisk walk in the Botanic Gardens before breakfast always stimulates the mind for a good murder…” The moment I read the opening line of this collection of short stories, I had a feeling I was in for a treat. Inspired by the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mr. McEwan has created Russell Holmes and a rather entertaining cast of characters who work together to solve a diverse assortment of mysteries.

Mr. McEwan did an excellent job of gradually drawing out the details of Russell’s personality and the origins of his friendship with Major Wilson through their dialog and actions rather than simply “telling” about it. As I read, each story added a bit more detail and made the characters seem more realistic. I grew to like Russell, Major Wilson, and Mrs. Fergus. They are an eclectic bunch, but they are perfectly suited to each other.

I do wish that some of the cases Russell works on had been expanded in greater detail. All the cases are interesting and different. However, there is no real opportunity for the reader to solve the mysteries on their own. The focus of this collection seems to be more about Russell and the methods he uses to solve the cases. While I liked watching Russell work, I must admit that I thought several of the stories ended rather abruptly.

Despite this issue, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Russell Holmes and his adventures. The stories are well paced, and Russell and his friends are very entertaining. Fans of a good mystery would do well to pick up a copy of this book.

Deadly Alliance by Kathleen Rowland

Deadly Alliance by Kathleen Rowland
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (117 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Finbar Donahue, former Army Ranger, walked on the wild side in Iraq, but now he lives in the shadows. After his evasive partner, Les, was shot in a random drive-by, Finn discovers cash is siphoned monthly. He fights to keep his investment company afloat. When the late partner’s girlfriend, Amy Kintyre, applies for his bookkeeping job, Finn suspects she knows about his company drain and hires her.

Amy needs a nine-to-five with free evenings and weekends to get her fashion design business back on track. She unearths Les’ s secret bank account and alerts Finn. Freezing of the money laundering account sets off havoc within an Irish gang. Amy witnesses a gang fight between a brutal ISIS fundraising organization and the Irish. Desperate to escape a stalker’s crosshairs, she seeks refuge with Finn. As danger heats up, sparks fly hotter.

Les is alive. After cheating the Irish mob, he became their target. Mistaken identity took the life of his disabled twin brother. Now Les makes another deal—trading Amy and stolen drugs for their forgiveness. Stakes are high as Finn tracks assassins across the San Bernardino Mountains. If he gets her back, can he trust her?

Amy is trying to start fresh, but it’s a struggle. Working hard on her deadline in the evenings, she is desperate to land a regular nine-to-five job to help pay the bills and keep her afloat until her own business gets started. If that means working for Finbar Donahue – her ex-boyfriend’s old partner and ex-Army Ranger – then so be it. Finn is determined to work out who is embezzling money from him, and while he sincerely hopes it’s not Amy, he has questions about the timing of her application for a job. He knows her ex-boyfriend was shady. Could it be Amy wasn’t some duped innocent but actually in on it too?

This is a well-paced, action packed story that I greatly enjoyed. I found the plot complex and well layered – and while I guessed a few aspects there were still a number of surprises that delighted me and I didn’t see coming. I enjoyed sifting through everyone’s actions and motivations to try and find the “bad guys”. With so many strong secondary characters and the author’s suspenseful plotting I found this a highly interesting, convoluted story that I truly enjoyed.

I was a little disappointed that there were a few editing errors (an internal dialogue sentence highlighted blue, a sentence split into two paragraphs, etc) and these jarred me from the story and my enjoyment, but they were small things and could be easily rectified with another careful going-over. I really enjoyed the suspense and tension in the story, found myself eagerly turning the pages to find out what happened next. I feel mystery and thriller readers should thoroughly enjoy this story as much as I have.

The romance between Amy and Finn is also thick with chemistry and sizzling tension. While there is sexual intimacy in the book and more than a few steamy kisses – everything of an erotic nature happens “off camera”. I feel the author has done an amazing job of making the relationship between Amy and Finn passionate enough that spicy readers will enjoy it, but also subtle enough that more traditional readers won’t feel as if too much has been exposed.

Overall I found this a deeply complex, thoroughly interesting and entertaining read.

Dead in Dubai by Marilynn Larew

Dead in Dubai by Marilynn Larew
Publisher: Artemis Hunter Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (284 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Rose

Why is CIA officer George Branson dead in Dubai? It looks like straight detective work, finding out what George has been up to and why he’s dead, but when former CIA analyst Lee Carruthers arrives in Dubai, she walks into a deadly war between two rival Merchants of Death vying for market share. She learns that George has worked for each man under a different name. With his own, that gives George three identities. Which man is dead? Has George really been working for the Agency, or has he sold out and, if so, to whom? Who are the men following her? And why does she keep finding diamonds?

This book starts off with a bang (literally—the main character is shot at in the first paragraph) and doesn’t slow down until the very end, which lends itself very nicely to a new book starring Lee Carruthers. This is the second in the series and, while it can be read as a standalone, I suspect readers would get a much richer experience if they started with the first book, The Spider Catchers. I know I’m going to order the first one, albeit a little later than I should have.

Because the book drops you right into the action, it took me a few pages to catch up to what was going on with Lee, who she was, and what kind of work she did. Knowing her backstory would have also let me see, I think, why she did some of the things she did.  That did not affect my enjoyment of the story, however; just slowed it down a bit until I sorted things out. The book is solidly written, the plot moves along nicely, and there is not a boring moment in the entire book.

Lee is a former CIA analyst who has left the company, but still manages to find herself involved in the case of a missing (read that as dead) operative. She is a not a woman you want to get on the bad side of… she feels naked without her Glock and her knife, and she’s not afraid to use either of them. At the same time, she does what’s right, not just what’s expedient. She is very much the good guy and I really enjoyed watching her work.

There are many twists and turns as she tries to discover who George Branson really was and how he fit into the intrigue that surrounds her. This book truly deserves to be called a thriller, because it’s non-stop. Good job, Ms. Larew.

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Going Coastal by Jane DiLucchio

Going Coastal by Jane DiLucchio
A Kate Matthews Mystery
Publisher: Quest Books/ Regal Crest Enterprises
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (143 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A client dying on her massage table is traumatic enough for Kate Matthews, but when the police declare that death a murder, life becomes more painful for her as she is cast as the major suspect.

None of this is what Kate expected from her move to the peaceful town of Santa Barbara. After a near-fatal heart attack, an early retirement from her Los Angeles law firm, and a change in careers, Kate envisioned a quiet life with her wife, Alicia, and their grown children.

Since the client held a position on the California Coastal Commission, her death becomes a media event. Kate finds herself and her family sucked into the maelstrom. The former lawyer has all she can do to find the truth behind Celia’s death without adding her own name to the body count.

Massages are supposed to be relaxing, not deadly.

The subplot involving Kate’s family was thought provoking. Not only did the ways in which she communicated with her wife and adult children give me valuable insight into her personality, it also fit in nicely with everything else that was going on in the plot. I especially enjoyed seeing how Kate reacted to conflict at home versus how she responded when something was hard to figure out in her case.

There were times when I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters because there were so many of them. This was something I especially noticed with characters who were only loosely connected to Kate or to the case she was trying to solve. They were mentioned so infrequently that it was easy for me to mix up their occupations and backstories. It would have been helpful to have fewer non-essential people to remember as I was trying to figure out what happened.

With that being said, the mystery itself was well done. The clues about what killed Kate’s client were shared regularly enough to keep me guessing just when I’d come up with yet another theory about who might have been responsible for it. I also liked seeing how the protagonist responded to the clues. She was intensely focused on solving this crime, and that made me more eager than ever to piece everything together before she did.

Give Going Coastal a try if you’re in the mood for a mystery that isn’t easy to unravel.

Savannah Gone by Doug Keeler

Savannah Gone by Doug Keeler
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (175 pgs)
Heat level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Everyone in the state of Georgia believes expanding the Savannah Port is the single-most important economic development project in the entire state. Everyone except Marine Biologist Claire Robertson that is. When Claire goes missing, Private Investigator Ray Fontaine agrees to search for her. At first Ray thinks finding her will be an open and shut case.
But behind Savannah’s Gothic facade, everyone has a secret. As Ray begins to peel back the layers, he uncovers a growing list of suspects. To solve the case, Ray must put himself, and those he cares about, in mortal danger.

Private investigator has been called on the case to locate missing Claire Robertson. Claire is a marine biologist that is going against what some residents think could bring jobs to the city. She also recently had an altercation with her ex-fiance after calling off their wedding. Is Claire being missing just a coincidence or is there a darker reason behind her disappearance?

Savannah Gone is a quick read that is told in first person. While on the trail investigating Claire’s disappearance, Ray Fontaine does a lot of talking in his own humorous way. I give the author props for bravery in having his own original style but some of the wording and descriptions used were words that I found weird and unedited. While I am reading I have to stop and question who talks like this? “…fiddled with the radio, I hoofed it inside…, On my left, a wrinkled old bird with a steel wool beehive roosted behind her desk.” The character has a different style of humor. I’m not saying it’s bad and others may enjoy it but I just found it weird and not very humorous.

The story was more about Ray’s opinion, and his life and not enough of a connection given about the victim Claire. One short description was given about Claire in the beginning of the book, but not enough for me to connect or have any kind of feelings about her or for me to have concern that she was missing. And when Claire is found, the story lacked details of what actually happened. Ray, seeming to be in his own world, goes on with his investigation with no concern for Claire’s or her parents’ well being. I would have liked to have read more about the victim, with a little bit of Ray’s life and behavior. This book was just the opposite.

I am not a reader that is a stickler for historical details, but I did find it interesting how the author included detailed scenes and tidbits about Savannah and the surrounding areas. Even though I didn’t find Ray to be a likable character I can say he loves and care for his daughter, Megan. Ray is also dedicated in solving Claire’s missing persons case, even going without proper sleep. The plot was interesting to read about the scandal surrounding the dredging and heavy ecological price to the city. Even though Ray could be a little bit pushy, the trail of interviews were entertaining. And with Ray’s list of suspects increasing I wasn’t really sure who was behind Claire’s kidnapping. So there is a little suspense built on who was responsible for Claire’s disappearance.

I wouldn’t classify this as a gripping suspense novel, more along the line of a high strung private investigator who does more interrogating than that of asking questions. Perhaps not something I would read again, but certainly something that help my interest throughout.  Those who enjoy old-fashioned detective stories might enjoy this much more than I did.

Brooklyn Secrets by Triss Stein

Brooklyn Secrets by Triss Stein
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (231 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Erica Donato, Brooklyn girl, urban history grad student and single mom, is researching the 1930s when Brownsville was the home of the notorious organized criminals the newspapers called Murder Inc. She quickly learns that even in rapidly changing Brooklyn, Brownsville remains much as it was. It is still poor, it is still tough, and it still breeds fighters and gangs. Doing field research, Erica stops in at the landmark local library and meets Savanna, a young woman who is the pride of her mother and her bosses, and headed for an elite college and a future. A few days later, Savanna is found beaten and left for dead. Her anguished mother is everywhere, insisting someone knows something. After a massive, angry demonstration, a young girlfriend of Savanna s is found dead, too. Is there a connection? Did perfect Savanna have a few secrets? Erica s curious. But she s focused on the 1930s and has located a few women who are happy to share memories. Two are childhood friends who disagree on much but guard secrets, too ones kept for a lifetime. Never one to resist looking deeper than her research requires, Erica keeps encountering an apparent derelict white man, a vengeful rejected girlfriend, the role of boxing as a way out of poverty, and fading evidence of long-ago crimes.

She’s doing a thesis on Brooklyn in the past. That involves looking into the people who were around then and their activities. When she finds an old file with photographs that depict life at that time, she starts trying to identify them.

The author has a good knowledge of Brooklyn. She talks about the past and the buildings that are gone as well as about the ones that still stand. She adds in the criminal element that is still present today. When she adds in a murder, too, it starts to get even more interesting.

Inner city gangs are still around. In earlier days they were different nationalities but the crime and fear squads have always been there. When Erica goes to the local library to do research, four black boys harass her. Luckily, the museum guard comes to her rescue.

Even when they know who attacked a young black girl, nothing can be done. They have solid alibis even if they are lies. Life starts to get dangerous in the ‘hood. When the next girl shows up dead, the case ramps up. While Erica is concerned about the girls, she also dealing with two oldsters who lived in the neighborhood in the time period she’s researching. One of them asks her to find out what happened to her brother. The two ladies are good friends but they fight as much as they get along.

This is a good look at what things are like in the poorer sections of town. Nowadays it happens in the heart of the city as well. Everyone is searching for power, money, and more. The story is good, the motives are mixed and the killer was a surprise. This isn’t any happily ever after but it is life. I’d read another in this series.

The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas

The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (353 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn’t imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead…and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.

She didn’t commit the crime, but clearing her name isn’t so easy when her innocence is not quite as simple, either. She knows things, and that’s dangerous. Invited into her neighbors’ homes during their most intimate and vulnerable times, she can’t help what she sees and hears. A woman sometimes says things in the birthing bed, when life and death seem suspended within the same moment. Gracy has always tucked those revelations away, even the confessions that have cast shadows on her heart.

With her friends taking sides and a trial looming, Gracy must decide whether it’s worth risking everything to prove her innocence. And she knows that her years of discretion may simply demand too high a price now…especially since she’s been keeping more than a few dark secrets of her own.

There’s always something special about the last book you read before the calendar flips over to a new year and The Last Midwife was no exception. I spend the holidays relaxing reading this book and have to say it was hard to put down.

The main character, Gracy is a midwife in a Colorado town during the gold mining days. Her voice pulls you into the story and you like her straight away. She seems kind and sweet so when she’s suddenly accused of killing a baby, you’re put on edge and want to start reading more chapters.

It’s not just Gracy who’s a great character in this story, but just about everyone she comes in contact with. Each one seemed to jump off the page and I liked the way the author gave them all some sort of secret to keep hidden.

The author did a wonderful job portraying the town and how people actually lived and sometimes suffered through this period of history. You get a feel for what women went through during pregnancy and childbirth and just how tough the female of the family had to be to survive.

I felt like this book not only offered me a wonderful read but also a well told history lesson rolled in there too. The pacing was perfect and I found myself spending more time reading each time I picked up this book. This was the first time I’d read anything by this author and now I’ll be looking for more titles written by her.

Ms. Dallas has set the bar high for my New Year reading and I hope the next book I read is just as enjoyable. It’s one I suggest you add to your winter reading list.

Protecting Kate by Amy J. Hawthorn

Protecting Kate by Amy J. Hawthorn
Dark Horse Inc. Book 1
Publisher: Indie Publishers
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full length (234 Pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Trent Dawson, horse trainer and former soldier, smells trouble at a simple charity auction. His good intentions get the better of him and he bids a small fortune on a damsel in distress. It turns out there’s far more than meets the eye to the former Ms. Kentucky and their chemistry is off the charts.

The only thing standing between Kate MacDonald and her worst nightmare is Trent Dawson and the men of Dark Horse Inc.

Kate is a former pageant winner who is divorced and getting herself back together. However, a charity auction leads her to trouble. Thankfully, she’s got Trent as her knight in shining armor. He also happens to be part of her past. Who knew he’d be the reason for all of her troubles?

I had no idea how fast her life could be turned upside down by the former soldier turned horse trainer. I wasn’t sure if he’d be able to save her from the possible impending doom.

Trent and Kate are so different but also much alike. The nice thing about this book was I could pretty much guess that these two had a chance at forever. How they’d get there was the rub and I loved how it happened. No spoilers, but it was great! They had chemistry and a spark.

So what made this book so interesting? It wasnt only the mystery and suspense but also the relationship between each the main characters. This book was sweet and caring and then hot and sizzling. There were more twists and turns than a roller coaster! All of the twists and turns, plus the many dimensions of their relationship built the tension in the book and made it a great read for me.

Throughout the story, the mystery and suspense played a massive role. The story was cleverly written and I’m excited to see who would be featured in book two. I’ve got some ideas and I really hope the author continues this series. Getting to learn about characters that could feature in the next book and reading about some of their background only enhances and makes this story more interesting. I would definitely love to read the second book when it comes out.