Taken by Surprise by Valerie J. Clarizio

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Taken by Surprise by Valerie J. Clarizio
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (250 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Everyone is shocked when Clare Ulster leaves her rich and handsome fiancé, chucks her well-to-do Milwaukee city life, and moves into her grandparents’ old homestead in the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The quiet small town of Iron City is just what she needs to get her life in order and learn to stand on her own. No men needed!

Unfortunately, disaster follows her. Unable to let her go, her abusive, cheating ex- fiancé finds his way to the U.P. and sets out to make Clare’s life more of a living hell then he’d done in the past. Additionally, Clare’s alleged involvement with the Fire Chief, aka, town player, lands her in a world of trouble with his ring of female admirers, sending her on a dangerously chaotic adventure including murder and kidnapping. With Clare’s life in danger, irresistible Police Chief Jack Ricco will do whatever it takes to keep their newest resident safe.

Will Clare and Jack be able to survive the deceptively peaceful Iron City?

This book started off rock solid. I thought I found another winner. I was proud of Clare, the heroine, for making the brave decision to walk away from her troubled Milwaukee city life to start a new life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She’s finally going to stand on her own and achieve her dreams. I enjoyed reading her pull from her inner strength to accomplish her goals in spite of her insecurities.

Jack, the hero, was equally brave and irresistible and thankfully well equipped to keep Clare safe from the relentless danger that followed her from Milwaukee. The chemistry between Clare and Jack was “Awe” worthy. I especially loved how and why Jack came to Clare’s rescue when she was cleaning the garage. I got quite the chuckle. Jack always came through just in the nick of time, thank goodness.

The synopsis refers to a plot thread about Clare’s alleged involvement with the Fire Chief and his “ring of female admirers”. Unfortunately, this is where I felt that the book faltered. The premise was farfetched. Another thing that hit a wrong note for me was the last chapter. It was as if the author pushed the fast forward button to quickly wrap-up the book. I kind of felt cheated.

Up until the last speedy chapter, the novel was consistently filled with suspense, mystery, and developments that were unpredictable, and that kept me turning the pages. Thankfully the evolving love story between Jack and Clare was well written and kept me plugged in until I reached the happy ending.

Taken by Surprise was a well-paced read with all the threads nicely tied up with a successful satisfactory conclusion. I would recommend this book.

Skunk Chronicles by Dallas M. Collet

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Skunk Chronicles by Dallas M. Collet
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Holiday, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (380 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

A hit-and-run pickup truck driver severely injures twelve-year-old Trent Stone and kills his best friend. He is left shattered, alone, and struggling with the reality of permanent loss.

As Trent tries to put his life back together and uncover who was driving the truck that fateful day, he is met with an onslaught of ever-mounting problems. He attacks his challenges with the naïve and playful honesty of youth, while at the same time experiencing the overwhelming miracle of a first love.

When Lindsey, the subject of that love, disappears, Trent is not only implicated in her disappearance but accused of her murder. How can he prove his innocence when she made him promise not to tell what he knows?

One amazing read that keeps you guessing!

The Skunk Chronicles follows the world from the view of Trent Stone. Trent is a small town boy with very adventurous friends. In a hit and run accident, Trent is severely injured while his friend Seth is killed. Trent’s life is turned upside down from this event forward and the following events make his life almost unbearable.

The author does a wonderful job at bringing the reader to see the world from Trent’s eyes. The reader feels the concern, anxiety and stress that Trent feels. When Trent befriends Lindsey, the world becomes so much lighter. Yet when the malicious teacher, Usher Riggins, becomes involved, Trent’s life becomes much more difficult.

The author keeps the reader guessing, from the aggression of Usher Riggins to the second guesses as to what happened to Lindsey, there is so much going in the story line to keep the reader stuck to the book. I found myself unable to put the book down even for a short time as I wanted to know what happened next or what trouble Trent would find himself involved.

The author has an amazing way of making Trent’s internal monologue come alive and avoid the tedious narration that some books have. The lively interactions and conversations as well as the in-depth description make this a real-world experience for the reader.

The Skunk Chronicles is a fantastic read that brings life in the 1950’s to the forefront and even transports the reader back into the adventurous times of youth! Be sure not to miss this amazing read!

Luke’s Redemption by Anni Fife

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Luke’s Redemption by Anni Fife
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full (386 pgs)
Other: M/F
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Chased by her criminal kingpin father, Katya Dalca runs to New Orleans and straight into the arms of Luke Hunter. Sucked into the carnal world of the French Quarter, she succumbs to Luke’s potent sexuality. He not only steals her breath, he steals her heart and the only leverage she has against her father. She is left with no choice except to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life alone.

Undercover DEA agent Luke Hunter thought his newest assignment—recover a stolen flash drive to gain the trust of the Russian mob—was like any other. But his target brings him to his knees, and after one taste of her intoxicating beauty, he’s in too deep. Doing his job means walking away, leaving his heart behind with nothing but a promise to reunite. It’s a promise he can’t keep.

When Katya’s past reaches out and her world unravels, her only hope is the one man she is most vulnerable to—Luke.

Wow, what a ride! Luke and Katya basically fall for each other after one hot night together, but lies, duty and betrayal pulls them right apart again.

Katya is horrified her father wants to marry her off to a creepy son of a Russian mobster, so she runs — but not before grabbing a flash drive her father prizes above all else as insurance. I have to admit, if I were on the run from my mobster father, I’d have left with nothing and given him less reason to track me down, so that didn’t gel with me entirely. Still, without the flash drive, we have no story, so I told my niggling voice to shush and kept reading, mostly because I really, really liked Luke.

Luke was awesome. Hot, sexy, smart, caring. His friendships were solid, especially with Gray, and (except when doing his covert job) he was honest and just a good guy. Although I get that he’s tough and a man’s man, it did get old that he used the F word as adverb, adjective and punctuation. After awhile, it’s just annoying. But, since that was essentially his only flaw, I could overlook that.

Katya annoyed me a bit at first. I was wondering why it was okay her father was a horrible human, but it took the threat of marriage to make her leave. She also did some incredibly thoughtless and impetuous things occasionally, bringing her perilously close to the TSTL (too stupid to live) precipice. Still, she did some changing and growing over time, and under it all it was clear she had a good heart, so I was willing to give her a chance. I’m glad I did.

The writing was solid and well crafted, and I didn’t notice any glaring editing problems. Honestly, the only thing that drove me a little wonky was the author’s choice of using third person POV for Luke, and first person POV for Katya. I’m not sure why she opted to write it this way, especially since each POV change has the person’s name noted so we know whose POV we’re in every moment. It was jolting, and off-putting for me. I honestly hope her follow up books don’t use this.

And for those of you who love a hot, explicit sex scene (or ten), this is a good book for you! Luke is an amazing and thoughtful lover to Katya, and she’s one lucky girl!

Kudos, too, for Ms. Fife for creating some wonderful secondary characters, especially those who were part of King Security. Gray was especially awesome, but that may only be because we got to know him the best. I look forward to reading more about all of the guys.  It’s a great set up for more exciting, sexy romantic suspense stories. Well done!

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House of Secrets by Lynda Stacey

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House of Secrets by Lynda Stacey
Publisher: Choc. Lit.
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (287 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

A woman on the run, a broken man and a house with a shocking secret …
Madeleine Frost has to get away. Her partner Liam has become increasingly controlling to the point that Maddie fears for her safety, and that of her young daughter Poppy .

Desperation leads Maddie to the hotel owned by her estranged father – the extraordinarily beautiful Wrea Head Hall in Yorkshire. There, she meets Christopher ‘Bandit’ Lawless, an ex-marine and the gamekeeper of the hall, whose brusque manner conceals a painful past.

After discovering a diary belonging to a previous owner, Maddie and Bandit find themselves immersed in the history of the old house, uncovering its secrets, scandals, tragedies – and, all the while, becoming closer.
But Liam still won’t let go, he wants Maddie back, and when Liam wants something he gets it, no matter who he hurts …

Negative emotions kept me reading in a hurry—just had to get three-year-old Poppy out of that toxic place.

Poppy’s mother, Madeline Frost, the–not-very-self-sufficient heroine, and the dastardly bully, Liam O’Grady that Madeline lives with, have a scary relationship.

When Jess, Madeline sister, pressures Madeline to seek help from her father and get away from Liam’s control, the reader is transported to Wrea Head Hall, the house of secrets, where numerous new characters get involved in Madeline and Poppy’s lives. Among them is Bandit, the hero, a veteran with PTSD. He has a family history with Wrea Head Hall. This history comes to light bit by piece as the story unfolds—not until the very end do we know its real significance.

A new facet of the novel is ushered in when Emily Ennis’ diary, written primarily during the World War II years, is found. Secrets of the house–tunnels, rooms, and where they are and what happened in them intrigue. The diary actually creates a story within a story. How the past is connected to the present at Wrea Head Hall surprises.

About the time I thought a happy, romantic love story would start, the villainous Liam slithers back into the action. His unrelenting efforts to control, his devious ways, and his connection with all the misfortunes in Madeline life send the story into the realm of horror. Wrea Head Hall is not the only house with secrets.

While this story demands the reader’s close attention to details, its plot is so compelling one feels an urgency to keep reading—just how much is Madeline going to have to go through before she gets her happy-ever-after!

Lynda Stacey does a remarkable job of weaving together, back stories, foreshadowing, and a big cast of characters with the many facets of this story. How she takes flawed characters and redeems them is amazing. House of Secrets is an unusual, compelling novel.

November Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ The Furies’ Bog by Deborah Jackson

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The Furies’ Bog by Deborah Jackson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (446 Pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

A bog may be Earth’s undoing, but it will be a gift to Mars.

Digging up bog bodies and analyzing corpses are the last things archaeology graduate student Felicity Cratchett wants to do. And when unusual mummies are discovered in the subpolar region of Polar Bear Provincial Park, it’s the last place she wants to go. But since her faculty advisor insists that she log more hours in fieldwork, she has little choice. In a remote bog with a small team of scientists, Felicity unearths the greatest secret of our time—a secret with ties to ancient Rome, roots in Botswana, and a link to the first people to exercise abstract thought. This revelation will challenge the conventional theory of human origins and human evolution.

Meanwhile, astronaut Lucas Wilson, a man tormented with a deep-seated anger, is terraforming Mars. He reluctantly descends to the Red Planet’s surface with his fellow astronauts, preparing to direct their exploration. Mars, in its birth pangs, will challenge every step he takes, with gas explosions and raging rivers, with damaged fuel processors and limited oxygen supplies. In the midst of these disasters, Lucas must keep his companions from discovering a feat of genetic engineering that will transform Mars like nothing has in over a billion years. The double helix of this masterwork twists all the way back to Earth and Felicity’s mummies. But if he fails, Lucas must decide whether to take up Mars’s sword, or to cast the weapon into a bog.

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE!

30 Seconds Before by Chrys Fey

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30 Seconds Before by Chrys Fey
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (65 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Blake Herro is a cop in the Cleveland Police Force. Ever since he was a child, he wanted to do right by the city he loved by cleaning up the streets and protecting its citizens. Red, a notorious mobster, has other plans.

On a bitter December night, ten police officers are drawn into a trap and killed by Red’s followers. Blake wants to bring down the Mob to avenge his fallen brothers and to prevent other cops from being murdered. Except the only way he can do that is by infiltrating the Mob.

Every minute he’s with these mobsters he’s in danger. Around every corner lies the threat of coming face to face with a gun. Will he make it out of the Mob alive, or will he be their next victim?

When the only way to save lives is to sacrifice your own, a choice must be made.

Blake Herro is a big city cop that has seen it all. When a mob boss goes on a murderous rampage killing the officers that Blake calls family, he cannot stand idly by. Without question Blake decides that he will go under cover and infiltrate the mob. Blake risks his life to take down the mob boss.

30 Seconds Before is a prequel to 30 Seconds and sets the initial stage and lays the foundation for a much more intense storyline. Although this is a shorter story, it creates a strong backstory that the reader will find invaluable in 30 Seconds.

The character development and graphic detail are what sets Chrys Fey apart from other authors. Chrys Fey writes with such strong detail that the reader feels as though they are a part of the scene. The plot is strong, but at times felt a little rushed. The shortened timespan and abrupt ending left me wanting more. I felt that there could have been more description and more emotion in some areas to bring the story to its full potential.

A reader who had not read 30 Seconds would be able to find this story enjoyable, but to have the full effect of the story that Chrys Fey is telling it would be best to be sure to follow up with 30 Seconds after reading 30 Seconds Before.

Overall this was a fun story to read and a great prequel to 30 Seconds. Chrys Fey has a fun and dynamic writing style and will certainly take the reader on an adventure!

The Second Man by Emelle Gamble

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The Second Man by Emelle Gamble
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense
Length: Full Length (246 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Poppy

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Jill Farrell’s college reunion is coming up, but she wants no part of it. The man she once loved, Swedish exchange student Max Kallstrom, is rumored to be attending, but that doesn’t tempt her as Max disappeared from her life the night before the graduation, and has never been heard from since.

When her ex-husband, Andrew Denton, knocks on her door and announces he wants to make nice, and, “oh, by the way, one of their class alumni might be a murderer”, Jill’s resolve to avoid the event hardens.

Jill shuts Andrew’s efforts to reconnect down, and tries to put Max out of her mind. And that’s that, until a second man knocks on her door, and the emotions of a time long ago overtakes her. Max Kallstrom tells Jill she’s the reason he has come to California. He asks her to please let him explain why she hasn’t heard from him for fifteen long years.

She’s willing to listen to what he has to say, but immediately realizes that her memories must guide her through a wrenching and dangerous few days. While her heart remembers a handsome young lover, she and her classmates are all different people now, and the reality of a murdered friend proves she can’t trust everyone.

What’s not so clear is if she should trust anyone . . . especially Max Kallstrom.

Once again, Emelle Gamble has written a book that enthralls.

From the first, I was wrapped up in Jill’s life. The story starts with her decision to move her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, into a nursing home. It utterly breaks her heart (both having to move her and realizing that her mother doesn’t really even see her or know her anymore), and it broke mine as well. Then one after another, more heart-rending things happen. Her ex wants to talk to her, her one true love, Max stops by and wants to explain why he left her … and then a friend is murdered.

Poor Jill has way too much going on and doesn’t know where to turn. Thankfully, she has her best friend, Carly to talk to, along with Carly’s husband, Ham. Things start escalating pretty quickly both with Max and the murder mystery. All fingers point to Max as the bad guy, but she has a hard time thinking he could commit murder. In fact, she knows she’s falling in love all over again.

Ms. Gamble has populated the story with exceptionally real characters, all different and unique, with character strengths and flaws. There are plenty of secondary characters (it does involve a class reunion, after all). The town, too, is well written and the descriptions are all clear without being over bearing. It was a nail-biting experience and the reveal at the end was a huge surprise! Well done, Ms. Gamble!

If you’re looking for a strong, well-written romantic suspense that will keep you guessing, I recommend The Second Man. It’s definitely a winner.

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The Dollmaker by Mary Burton

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The Dollmaker by Mary Burton
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (387 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Dr. Tessa McGowan had never seen anything quite like it. But the mutilated bodies on her exam table tell a stunningly macabre tale: someone with a twisted mind is kidnapping women and altering their faces to resemble real, life-size dolls. As a forensic pathologist, it’s her job to aid the agent leading the case—even if that agent is her estranged husband.

Twelve years ago an unspeakable tragedy destroyed Dakota Sharp’s world. Haunted by the ghosts of his past, he’s devoted himself to capturing killers. His only regret is that it cost him Tessa. Now, as the Dollmaker case brings them together—and raises his suspicions that he’s crossed paths with this deranged psychopath before—they may just have their second chance. But it seems Dakota’s not the only one who wants to make Tessa his own…

She may be the Dollmaker’s next target, but Tessa has no intention of winding up as another toy on his shelf. Can she and Dakota stop this ghastly killer before his next deadly playdate?

Dakota is an excellent cop but he’s haunted by the death of his younger sister. He wasn’t even in the country when it happened but he still feels guilty. The worst part is that it’s a cold case. It’s worse than cold for him, it’s frozen part of his heart.

Ms. Burton writes suspenseful novels and this is one of her best so far. She makes you wonder how she can imagine a monster so well. Did she have one in her life? Once you start reading her novels, you don’t stop until it’s done. Then you might have to sit and take a few breaths before you return to regular life. Her stories are smoothly done, the horror is real, and the danger gives you chills.

When Tessa, Dakota’s wife, returns from working overseas, she’d like to get back together with him. He tells her he hasn’t changed and what broke them apart before will do it again. Since she’s a medical examiner, she has to work with him. She also plans to work on him.

The newest death is a young man who was found in a dark alley. They believe that it was a drug deal gone bad. The young man was a good boy, but he had a bad father. What makes them wonder about it is the manner of death. It’s almost like a doctor killed him.

Then a woman is found dead and she’s been remade. All her hair has been removed. She’s tattooed as a doll and her wig and clothing are unusual. When she’s identified, she’s part of a group of girls that Tessa and Dakota’s sister hung out in high school. Then they find another one in the same type of tattoos and handmade clothing and she’s another of the group. All of sudden, Dakota has more to worry about than his dead sister…

Ms. Burton, draws you in, gives you pieces of the puzzle from all sides, and manages to scare you to death on the way. Her books are exciting and an excellent read.

The Little Dog by Leslie W P Garland

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The Little Dog by Leslie W P Garland
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Short Story (91 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Little Dog: A story of good and evil, and retribution.

“And I saw an angel standing in the sun”

Is told by Bill, a retired forester, and takes the form of most of the stories in our lives, namely, that we have no idea that we are living a story until later when previous events suddenly seem to fall into place and make some kind of sense. Bill recounts a week in his early working life when, paired with an older, unsavoury and unpopular colleague, they find a little dog sitting beside the forest haul-road way out in a remote part of the forest. What is the little dog doing there? As the week progresses Bill finds himself becoming emotionally attached to it while also becoming increasingly concerned about just who is his objectionable workmate, and when he notices that the little dog is no longer present at its usual spot his concerns heighten, as he cannot help but feel that his workmate has something to do with the dog’s disappearance. Although a troubled Bill has a conversation with his local priest and learns of the nature of sin and evil, he remains blind to that which is right in front of him. However the very next day events suddenly take an unexpected turn and the young naive Bill starts to learn some awful truths.

They say that paying attention to how an individual treats animals is a great way to know what their character is really like. After reading this story, I’d be inclined to agree with this test.

The fantasy elements didn’t show up immediately. Once the first few hints of them did appear, I was mesmerized by how subtle and open to interpretation they were. While this isn’t the kind of writing style I’d typically expect to find in this genre, I absolutely loved it for this particular storyline. The ambiguity blended in in perfectly with the narrator’s young and innocent outlook on life.

Mr. Garland’s eloquent descriptions of the daily lives of foresters lured me into the plot immediately. He touched on everything from the proper way to cut down a tree in order to preserve as much of the wood as possible to the narrator’s mixed feelings about the gangly teenagers who worked at the ferry. There were so many moments like these that were captured in perfect detail that I felt as though I, too, had spent decades doing this job.

The little dog that Bill found on the side of the road was originally my biggest reason for wanting to read this book. I was eager to know why he was wandering around alone in the middle of nowhere and what would happen to him next. While I can’t say much about this part of the plot without giving away spoilers, I will say that it exceeded every expectation I had for it. The dog was even more intriguing than I thought he’d be, and I was quite pleased with how the author incorporated him and his backstory into what otherwise appeared to be a completely mundane workweek.

There was quite a bit of philosophical musing in this tale about why some people choose to make horrible choices in life and what the difference is between someone who makes one bad decision and someone who is objectively an awful human being. These passages turned out to be my favourite parts of the storyline other than the scenes that focused on the dog. Not only did they fit Bill’s gentle, contemplative personality perfectly, they gave me some food for thought as well!

The Little Dog is one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2016. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who adores fantasy stories that ask the audience to think critically about what they’ve just read.

15th Affair by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

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15th Affair by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (351 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Detective Lindsay Boxer has everything she could possibly want. Her marriage and baby daughter are perfect, and life in Homicide in the San Francisco Police Department is going well. But all that could change in an instant.

Lindsay is called to a crime scene at the Four Seasons Hotel. There is a dead man in one of the rooms, shot at close range. The man checked in under a false name with no ID on him, so the first puzzle will be finding out who he is.

In the room next door are a dead young man and woman, also shot. They are surrounded by high-tech surveillance equipment. Could they have been spying on the man now dead in the room next to them?

And in the utilities cupboard down the hall is the dead body of a house maid. The murders are all clearly linked and professionally executed. But what is the motive behind it all? Lindsay will need to risk everything she has to find out.

Lindsay Boxer thinks she’s finally figured it out. She’s settled into her competing roles of mother, wife, and detective, and has even figured out how to balance the three (mostly) and keep everyone, including her dog, Martha, happy. But is it all a well-constructed façade or does she really have it all? Everything she knows and believes about her life is about to be rattled when a woman linked to the CIA disappears.

From the first pages of 1st to Die, I’ve loved Lindsay Boxer. She’s plucky, she’s smart, and she’s tough as nails. But, when it’s needed, she can be loyal, loving, and the best friend you’ve ever had. This kind of contrast can be rare in a female detective. In 15th Affair, Lindsay is knocked off her game and is walking a thin line between sanity and absolute chaos. As much as I hated to see her so out of sorts, it was a different sort of Boxer to watch.

My one complaint is that with every novel, the mysteries seem to get more and more convoluted. Generally, I don’t have a huge issue following along and understanding everything that’s happening, even when there are two separate cases happening. This time, and it very well could have been me being distracted, I had a hard time keeping things straight, even though the two incidents weren’t similar at all.

I think I probably say this every time I review one of James Patterson’s books, but I adore his work. The Women’s Murder Club series has long been my favorite and this newest installment isn’t any different. Although I was shaken and a little upset by the way it ended, there was purpose and reason behind it. I’m hoping that in the next book we get more information so I can go back to loving a particular character. Even though I wound up feeling a little lost as far as the mysteries went, I still enjoyed this book and can’t wait for number sixteen to arrive.