What Echoes Render by Tamsen Schultz

Cover_What Echoes Render

What Echoes Render by Tamsen Schultz
Publisher: Booktrope
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full (361 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

There’s a killer in Windsor intent on making Jesse Baker burn for the sins of others. But arson investigator David Hathaway isn’t about to let that happen. As the past echoes through their lives, will they remember that history, like fire, can give life just as easily as it can destroy it?

Thoroughly enjoyable, What Echoes Render is a well written story with one foot solidly in both the romance and suspense camps.

Jesse, the heroine of our story, is a great woman. She’s strong, smart, determined. She’s a great mom, but not without her flaws or without a troubled backstory. I really liked Jesse, though I wasn’t completely sold on her reasons for keeping her budding relationship with David a mystery.

David was pretty amazing, too. Much like Jesse, he’s strong (but compassionate and caring), smart, determined, loyal and a good dad. But also with a difficult past in both the personal and professional sides. He puts up with a bit of an emotional yo-yo from Jesse, but sticks it out because he sees what’s underneath her insecurity. I liked, too, how he involved her boys in much of what was going on with their relationship. As a single dad, he really understood that area.

The mystery was intriguing and had plenty of clues, both real and the red herring type. I was certainly engaged in trying to find out whodunit and why. I suspect many true mystery buffs will figure out the villain before our protagonists do, but even so, I absolutely enjoyed this part of the book. In fact, despite being very much a romantic, I chomped at the bit when the author turned away from it and turned to the community building.

What community? Well … this is a small town story, so there are plenty of secondary characters to liven things up. However, as entertaining as they were, I admit I tended to skim past the parts that weren’t directly involved in either David and Jesse’s relationship or the mystery. Maybe if I’d read the first books in the series, I would have been more engaged in those folks, since it’s clear they figured in previous stories. But since I didn’t already know them, I just wanted to get on with the story I was reading!

Even so, What Echoes Render really sold me on the author. Her skill with prose and plot is undeniable, and I’m betting this book (and the entire series) will be a hit to other romantic suspense fans.

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Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny by Malia Ann Haberman

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Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny by Malia Ann Haberman
Book 3 of the Chase Tinker series
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Childrens
Length: Full Length (211 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

In Chase Tinker’s world, magic, lies and secrets can be a lethal combination…

For eight agonizing months Chase Tinker’s guilt over the despicable act he committed on Halloween night has been eating away at his heart and mind. Chase’s life gets even more complicated when secrets about the mysterious Relic in the attic are revealed on the eve of a visit from an unwelcome caller. It doesn’t help that this all occurs on his fourteenth birthday!

Despite his problems, his biggest concern is that his family’s Dark Enemy, the Marlowe Family, is becoming more powerful with each passing day, fueled by the energy they continue to pillage from the many magical beings of the world. If Chase and his family are ever going to win, they will need a whole lot of magical help; they must destroy the most evil threat the world has ever known!

Chase Tinker is suffering agonizing guilt because he had to kill his evil cousin in order to save his brother. However, eight months later that guilt becomes the least of his problems. He and his family must fight the Marlowes, not only the Tinkers’ greatest enemies, but the world’s as well. The Marlowes are pillaging magic from all magical beings, bringing destruction and despair on everyone, and it is up to Chase and his family to stop them.

This is the third novel in a wonderful series. I have read the other two, but this novel may also be enjoyed as a stand-alone. The author provides enough background so that a new reader will have no difficulties getting right into the story. That being said, the series is a very strong and exciting one, so personally, I’d recommend reading all the books in order.

The characters are well defined and I really found Chase to be a very sympathetic character. He has to make some very hard decisions, and he makes them with care. The contrasts between his family and his cousins’ is dramatic, and I was pulling for Chase and his friends every inch of the way.

The magical spells seem very real and plausible. I had no difficulties at all believing that Chase could make himself invisible or shrink an unexpected and unwanted visitor so that the visitor would fit in a water bottle.

The story speaks to more than just the fantastical adventures. It also speaks to issues of determining good and evil, figuring out who to trust, acting honorably, and looking out for others. The lessons Chase learns are valuable lessons for our world as well.

The pacing is wonderful and I really wanted to read this novel in one sitting. As I neared the end, I began to worry. There was no way this could end. Sure enough, I came to the end of this novel and discovered that the fourth in the series is the concluding book. The House of Destiny has a reasonable ending, but it also is obvious that things are not resolved, and all I can say is that I hope the author is ready to release the final book in the very near future. I, for one, am sitting on the edge of my chair waiting.

Fantasy lovers will delight in the adventures of Chase and his family and friends. The action is hair-raising, the antics are fun, and the entire adventure is absolutely delightful.

Lady Annabelle’s Abduction by Charisse Howard

LADY
Lady Annabelle’s Abduction by Charisse Howard
Publisher: Boom-Books
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Short Story (81 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

If Lady Annabelle Chatfield’s reckless brother had to die in debt, couldn’t he have borrowed from someone young and handsome? Marrying the dumpy middle-aged Earl of Brackenbury is not her idea of a bright future. But that sacrifice starts to look like bliss when a dark stranger blocks her wedding by climbing in her bedroom window and carrying her off into the night. Who is this ruthless but compelling man known as Hawk? What does he plan to do with her? Can her pet spaniel and a young footman rescue her before her honor and her family are ruined?

Lady Annabelle’s Abduction is a story about the passion that upsets the plans for a marriage of convenience.

I was intrigued by the premise of the novella because I’ve read some remarkable renditions of the topic of a kidnapped heroine. Ms. Howard didn’t disappoint in this respect. She made both Lady Annabelle and her captor likeable characters that made me hope their predicament could be solved favorably in the end.

What Lady Annabelle’s Abduction lacked was a story supported with more details and a deeper insight into Lady Annabelle’s and Hawk’s emotions and the progression of their relationship. Where the blurb promised that Annabelle and Hawk warily grow acquainted, their relationship actually progresses into far more than mere acquaintance in the space of a few pages. Instead of dedicating a third of the story to Hepton’s attempts to finding Annabelle, the space would’ve been better used focusing on the heroine and her abductor.

The language and manners of the characters were all very age appropriate, but I felt, especially in the most intimate moments between Annabelle and Hawk that the discrepancy between the events and the language was too big; it seemed like the language was mocking the characters. It bothered me and it took some pleasure from reading.

This novella is full of suspense and romance set in the authentically presented Regency era.

The Lost Flower by Geraldine Solon

Cover_The Lost Flower

The Lost Flower by Geraldine Solon
Publisher: Self
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery
Length: Full (273 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 3 stars
Review by Rose

After third grade teacher, Lacy Stone undergoes a kidney transplant she develops vivid dreams of a toddler running away from a blazing fire. Lacy soon embarks in a journey to Boracay island, Philippines to find answers. On the island, Lacy meets Sampaguita Navarro, one of the last few Aetas of her tribe. As a manghihilot, Sam hopes to open her own holistic spa on the island, but as she acquires tragic visions, she discovers that her gift of touch comes with a price. Searching for clues, Lacy crosses paths and falls in love with investor, Adam Shaw not realizing that he’s the prime target of waitress, Frankie Lloyd who has acquired a new identity to seek revenge and claim her redemption. When Lacy and Sam provide a threat to Frankie’s plans, trouble looms paradise which leaves Lacy with a choice between saving the man she loves or the child from her dream.

This book has an interesting premise– after a kidney transplant, Lacy Stone begins having vivid dreams of a toddler in need of rescue. Because of clues in the dream she realizes it takes place on the island of Boracay in the Philippines and has a strong sense that she needs to go there.

Once there, she is introduced to other people on the island who, at first, seem to have little in common but it is soon evident that there is a thread that ties them all together–a thread we do not see clearly until the end of the book.

This book could have done with a bit of editing–it was not an ARC but there were several points where the editor fell down on his/her job (punctuation, duplication of a passage, etc., actions which seem inconsistent with transplant patients).  It was hard to connect with the majority of the characters– I think if the book had been longer the author would have been able to deepen the characters. As it is, we see a lot of what they do, but we don’t actually come to feel what they feel.

However, the story itself is compelling that this reviewer was able to get back into the story even with these issues. The mysteries as to why Frankie was hiding on the island, who the child was and what she had to do with Lacy, the connection between Sam and all the other characters is well done. I could see this as a movie–it had the feel of watching various scenes play out.

I would be interested in trying other books by this author.

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Murder In Red Rock Canyon by Sherry Derr-Wille

ROCK
Murder In Red Rock Canyon by Sherry Derr-Wille
Book 5: The Rhonda Pohs Murder Mystery Series
Publisher: Class Act Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (149 Pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Two days after being hired by the Clark County Sheriff’s Department Rhonda Pohs finds herself smack dab in the middle of a murder committed in Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas. Her investigation leads her to other murders in Nevada to say nothing of other states including her home state of Wisconsin.

To solve this mystery, Rhonda must dig deep into the history of the ancient Native Americans who left behind the petroglyphs and rock paintings that seem to draw this killer like a magnet.

With the help of her new partner Jenny Sims and her old partner Phil Mason, Rhonda is finally able to bring a mass murderer to justice.

Rhonda’s husband, Mark, has just accepted a new coaching position at an exclusive private high school in the Las Vegas area, and they are relocating. Rhonda is worried about her prospects, but soon after arriving in Las Vegas, she is hired by the Clark County Sheriff’s Department. Before she officially begins her employment, she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation.

This is an exciting mystery where the bodies just keep piling up. Rhonda is severely tested by this case, having to prove herself the minute she is hired, with no break-in period. Red Rock Canyon is different in every way from Wisconsin where she worked in a small rural area. Rhonda proves that she is up to the task. She and her new partner, Jennifer Sims, work well together and Rhonda, because she had more experience, is assigned as the lead detective. However, she is very grateful for Jenny’s knowledge of the terrain.

While the story is exciting. However, the pacing is uneven, and I found the beginning, detailing Rhonda and Mark’s drive from Wisconsin to Las Vegas, to be slow. I also wondered how Rhonda managed to get weekends off in the middle of a high profile investigation. There was a lot more telling than showing, making it difficult for me to engage fully with the characters.

The information about petroglyphs was fascinating, and I was intrigued to discover just how many petroglyphs there are across the country. The geography in and around Red Rock Canyon provides for an interesting murder scene, as do some of the other areas mentioned in the story. The author also deals with various cultural stereotypes. Mark is the cook in their family, as well as an athletic coach, and he is very sympathetic to the rigors of Rhonda’s job, providing her with relaxing and romantic breaks. Rhonda and Jenny are not always well received as they perform their jobs in a male dominated field. And Native Americans are readily condemned, leaving Rhonda to find the real culprits.

Mystery fans who are interested in Native American history, particularly petroglyphs, will enjoy heading out to Red Rock Canyon on the trail of a murderer.

Hard Water: An Oliver Redcastle Historical Mystery by Louise Titchener

WATER
Hard Water: An Oliver Redcastle Historical Mystery by Louise Titchener
Publisher: Mundania Press
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (166 Pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Oliver Redcastle is an ex-Pinkerton, former Union Army sharpshooter who has opened a detecting agency in Baltimore. In Hard Water Oliver (set in 1884) takes a side trip after attending Alan Pinkerton’s funeral in Chicago. He stops at the idylic Lake Erie island of Put-in-Bay. His assignment is to catch an acrobatic train robber, but complications soon arise and Oliver must deal with an old murder and a new murderer. Like former Redcastle novels Oliver meets many interesting historical characters in the course of his investigation. He also runs into his maddening and beautiful ex-lover, Marietta Dumont.

Oliver Redcastle owes William Pinkerton a favor, so once again, he is off in search of a villain. This time he has to capture Frank Aballo, a trapeze artist turned bank robber. Redcastle heads to a Midwestern island, Put-in-Bay, during a blistering hot July in the year 1884.

It was great fun to travel back in history and the time period is captured in vivid details, bringing it alive and making me feel as if I was being bitten by mosquitos and sweltering in the humidity, as I tried to help Redcastle solve the mysteries that kept popping up.

The action is fast and continuous as Redcastle gets caught in one intrigue after another. He has to locate a preacher’s daughter inside a cult, work with a less than congenial assistant, keep his former mistress at arm’s length, all the time, trying to recover the stolen money and apprehend the train robber.

The characters were very real. The action takes place in a short period of time, so there wasn’t a lot of character development, but they were all believable and interesting. I especially liked one of the minor characters, a young lad named Billy Stojack. His mother does the laundry for day-trippers and others, definitely not an easy job given the hardness of the water which leaves reddish stains around the wash basin. Billy brings in some extra cash acting as a guide, running errands and so forth. He is a very nice addition to the story, making it seem even more real and human.

If you want to feel what it was like to be a Pinkerton detective, rub shoulders with famous historical figures, all the time trying to solve an interesting murder, then Hard Water may be just what you are looking for.

The Magpie Chronicles by Sherry Gloag

MAGPIE
The Magpie Chronicles by Sherry Gloag
Publisher: EsKape Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (106 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A collection of thirteen mixed genre short stories based on the well-known Magpie Rhyme.

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
And four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten a surprise you should not miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth
Thirteen beware of the devil himself.

Traditional poems are remembered because they speak to every generation that hears them. Will they continue to resonate with us in the twenty-first century?

As soon as I read the blurb, I couldn’t wait to find out how Ms. Gloag’s interpretation of each line could be reimagined in a fresh way. It’s uncommon for so many different genres to be represented in the same collection, and I was curious to see how and when they’d pop up together.

In “Three for a Girl,” a teenager gets into a fight with her boyfriend and decides to take a long walk to cool off before going home. What happens next caught me by surprise due to the attention-grabbing opening scene as well as how smoothly everything was tied together in the end. This is a good example of how to straddle the thin line between genres without compromising a quickly-paced plot.

Five for Silver” follows two sisters around as they discuss the booming jewelry business that is bringing a lot of success to one of them. Like several other stories in this collection, this one had a great premise but never quite delivered enough details about what was happening in order for me to get into it. There were a few times when these tales had too many characters or never quite fully introduced them to the reader, and this made me feel a little lost in certain sections.

By far my favorite part of this anthology was “Eleven for Health.” The narrator is a woman who was married to the love of her life for decades. Their relationship has weathered far more than its fair share of bumps in the road. As she prepares for a monumental shift in her life she brushes up against funny, painful, and poignant memories that she hasn’t confronted in years. Strong character development and a plot that assumes the reader is intelligent enough to make certain deductions on his or her own made me wish for a sequel. I don’t know if the author has any plans to write one, but I’d love to revisit these characters!

The Magpie Chronicles dabbles with so many different themes that I’d recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in any of them. Some books benefit from shaking up the reader’s expectations of what will happen next. This is one of them.

When Swallows Fall by Gloria Davidson Marlow

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When Swallows Fall by Gloria Davidson Marlow
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (262 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Although Ophelia Garrett loved Cade Scott first, it was her sister he married and took home to his plantation. When Ophelia receives word of her sister’s murder and Cade’s arrest, she travels there on a mission to learn the truth. She soon finds the halls of Almenara are haunted by secrets, peril, and quite possibly her sister’s ghost.

Despite the cold, angry man Cade has become, Ophelia’s heart refuses to believe he is a murderer. Vowing to do everything she can to prove his innocence, Ophelia must open wounds she’d hoped were long healed and face the feelings that still burn between her and Cade. As everyone looks to Cade as the suspect, evil haunts the dunes and halls of Almenara, bringing death to two more young women and forcing Ophelia to confront the danger.

Ophelia was betrayed by the two people she loved most.

Ophelia is a sweet young woman who has every reason to be angry with her late sister and her brother-in-law, Cade. The first time she falls in love, her sister swoops in and steals the man away from her. My curiosity was immediately piqued. I wanted know what could have possibly induced Cade to marry Desdemona when he was clearly in love with Ophelia and then cut Ophelia out of their lives entirely. I eagerly dove into the pages searching for an explanation. The truth behind Desdemona’s betrayal is dreadful.

I have a lot of respect for Ophelia. Desdemona’s betrayal regarding Cade was simply the last in a long line of offenses she committed. It took a lot of courage to go to her sister’s funeral, investigate the murder, and face the man she once loved. It took even more courage to examine herself and acknowledge the very small part she played in the tragedy. I do think that Ophelia is a little too hard on herself. Desdemona and Cade are adults and clearly responsible for their own actions.

Ophelia is heart broken when she learns how unhappy Desdemona’s life had been. However, I had a very hard time sympathizing with Desdemona’s plight. Desdemona struck me as a cruel woman who rarely thought of anyone but herself. She used people and then tossed them aside when she was done. Her tragic situation was entirely of her own making. I couldn’t really sympathize with Cade either. I understand that Ophelia was called away from him when their romance was still young, but no one forced him to find comfort in the arms of Desdemona.

Ms. Marlow did a good job of weaving the mystery surrounding Desdemona’s death. There were a lot of plausible suspects. In fact, there were so many suspects that the sheriff’s insistence that Cade killed Desdemona as well as the other young women is completely ridiculous. With such an abundance of suspects, I was on the edge of my seat, and I didn’t figure it out until the very end.

Overall, I enjoyed reading When Swallows Fall. Its pages are filled with heartbreak, mystery, and love. Anyone looking for a story of tragedy and romance of Shakespearean proportions should give When Swallows Fall a try.

Deep Green by Trisha Haddad

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Deep Green by Trisha Haddad
Published by Eternal Press
Genre: Contemporary, YA, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (167 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated: 3.5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Adrift in a lifeboat with strangers, each holding a deep secret…

Leah Taylor prefers the quiet adventure and romance of books, but during a cruise with her parents, a terrorist attack leaves her adrift in a lifeboat with strangers.

University student, Blue McCree impresses her immediately with his knowledge of literature and philosophy, but equally thrilling is strong, dark ,Musir. While Musir is slow to speak, translating his thoughts from Arabic to English, his chivalry and wisdom capture Leah’s curiosity.

Together they face danger after danger as they fight for survival. Leah also struggles with the growing attention from the men she’s stranded with, and her mixed emotions toward them.

When Leah learns the dark secrets her fellow survivors hold, the truth will blow apart any semblance of civility and test Leah’s preconceived notions of just how far dedication can go before it crosses over into fanaticism.

Deep Green’s greatest moments are in the incredible descriptions of the ocean, of a world apart from normal life, and the beauty of a rare perspective. Although the descriptions are well done, the action is what will keep you reading. Teen Leah ends up in a lifeboat, struggling to survive among strangers. They are all distinct, different people, with different attitudes and beliefs. Together, they confront an ocean full of dangers, uncomfortable truths … but coping ‘together’ is a challenge. They struggle for basic survival – their plight is physically challenging; but also more. Leah finds herself drawn to two of the other survivors, and finds herself torn between the two.

In the face of circumstances, readers will find themselves wondering about the fate of those on the cruise ship, Leah’s parents and other family; it seems unrealistic that Leah is thrust into a ‘personal growth’ story that includes potential romance, in the face of such worry and potential/probably heartache. Although well-written, this aspect was a distraction throughout the story.

Leah, who started off as a bit of a smart-alec teen, copes with the men, the boat, and their eventual landfall, with growing courage. She’s a wonderful character, not supremely confident, but driven by the desire to do the right thing. Overall, this is very readable and events are unpredictable.

Bullet in the Night by Judith Rolfs

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Bullet in the Night by Judith Rolfs
Publisher: Prism Book Group
Genre: Inspirational, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (243 Pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

An intricate tale of love and renewal… Psychologist Lenora Lawrence lingers in a coma after being shot by a sniper as a web of intrigue unravels around her. Her redemptive work with society’s ex-convicts and her personal counseling with vulnerable women has created many enemies in the resort town of Lake Geneva, WI. Lenora’s colleague and good friend, Jennifer Trevor, intends to see that Lenora’s sniper is brought to justice, even if it means making deadly enemies herself.

Bullet in the Night is a fast-paced action thriller which had me captured from the first paragraph. Jennifer Trevor hears that Lenora Lawrence, her good friend and fellow psychologist, has been shot by a sniper. I liked Jennifer. She is a quick thinking, smart, kind person who would never give up on a friend. She refuses to let Lenora’s husband railroad one of Lenora’s clients, Kirk, an ex-convict, into the role of murderer. Something just doesn’t seem right to Jennifer and she is determined to discover the truth, no matter what the cost to her personally.

The plot is intricate and very complex. There are myriad possible suspects and Jennifer must work carefully to find the truth. Every time I thought I’d pegged the murderer, then I’d learn something else which caused me to shift my ideas. I didn’t finally figure things out until the very end, just as Jennifer herself put the pieces together. The author gave her readers all the appropriate clues, but there were so many ways to read those clues that I was on the edge of my seat right to the end.

My only issue with the novel is that it is very heavily Christian. Prayer and Biblical references abound, especially as the novel progresses. I admit this is a personal bias as I am not a Christian, but I felt that these references were distracting and interfered with the pacing of the novel. This is such a great mystery, one which I couldn’t put down, that I solved my issues by skipping all the paragraphs that switched into religious mode. And it is only a guess, but I suspect that the heavy-handiness of the references might be off-putting to other readers as well.

Nevertheless, the story is a dynamite one and well worth pursuing. I recommend it to any readers who like a challenging mystery. This one is a real page turner.