The Broken by Shelley Coriell

ROKEN
The Broken by Shelley Coriell
The Apostles Series
Publisher: Forever-Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (375 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

He took her life, but left her alive.

Three years ago, reporter Kate Johnson was the first victim—and only survivor—of the Broadcast Butcher. Scarred both physically and psychologically by the brutal serial killer, Kate lives life on the run, knowing that one day, he will find her and finish what he started.

In the pursuit of justice, you sometimes have to step outside the law.

Agent Hayden Reed spends his life chasing monsters. The only way to stay sane is to detach, but the second the Broadcast Butcher case crosses his desk, Hayden knows this is the case that might just cost him his soul. To catch this vicious murderer before he strikes again, Hayden must find Kate and earn her trust. For it’s her darkest secrets that hold the key to stopping this madman once and for all . . .

No matter what genre you enjoy, romance, mystery or suspense, I think you’ll find something to enjoy in The Broken. The opening chapter drew me in, threw me off course a little too, but we’re quickly introduced to Kate Johnson, the serial killer’s only surviving victim, and Smokey Joe, a blind Vietnam war veteran who was actually my favorite character in the book. Both his and Kate’s survival seemed bound together and when you cheered for one you cheered for the other.

As much as she’s been able to, Kate’s run away from the horror and begun a new life as Smokey’s minder, but like all good stories there has to be conflict, and in The Broken that’s in the form of the discovery of another woman killed by The Butcher, the serial killer who attacked Kate. Also, into Kate’s world walks FBI Agent Hayden Reed, who has issues of his own.

Kate thinks her brother is the killer but as the story unfolds, you along with Kate realize all is not what it seems. Bodies start turning up and also body parts, and there are lots of twists and turns that keep you reading. While the identity of the true killer wasn’t a sure thing, I had a pretty good idea who it was and was intrigued to see if I was right.

And there’s the relationship between Kate and Hayden. Both come to it with huge issues but you feel that they’re right for another and the only person who can heal each other’s wounds.

All the secondary characters were fun too. The pacing is fast and towards the end you find yourself just wanting to finish reading the story to figure out if your inclinations were right.

I’m not sure if the author is intending to write more about Kate and Hayden and yes, of course Smokey Joe, but I’d like to see where their next adventure takes them.

You’re Not Safe by Mary Burton

SAFE
You’re Not Safe by Mary Burton
Publisher: Zebra / Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (392 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Camellia

He Will Never Forget

The broken body hanging from a tree in Texas Hill Country. . .the frozen figure huddled in a meat locker. . .only at second glance does the truth become apparent. What seems like suicide is far more sinister, and the terror is only beginning…

Never Forgive

One devastating moment changed Greer Templeton’s life and ended two others. Now, with a body found on her property and Texas Ranger Tec Bragg on her doorstep, Greer’s nightmare has returned. With each new victim, her link to Tec’s case grows, and soon it will be too late to run.

And Never Let Them Live. . .

Greer hoped the past was behind her, but an obsessed killer has never forgotten the bond that unites them. One by one, he will track down his victims, finish what was started–and make Greer’s dying wish come true.

Murder with unsettling, eerie elements grabs the reader’s attention from the get-go.

Mary Burton weaves a tale of mystery and suspense that made me shudder at times. She takes the reader into the setting so one can almost feel the sweltering heat in the hill country of the dry Texas summer as the temperature soars above 100 degrees regularly, while all the time pulling the reader into a tale that put down roots in events that happened twelve years earlier. Now, the things that grew from those roots are ripe for harvest—what a horrifying harvest it is.

Texas Ranger Tec Bragg is back in Austin after his stint on the border fighting drug cartels. The media coverage of his warrior deeds on the border make people a little leery of him. He goes about his duties with polite manners and soft-spoken words. Yet, the hard glint in his eyes and straight forward questions make it clear, he tolerates no nonsense. He is not happy when his nephew Mitch, who is back from Iraq with PTSD, goes to work for Greer Templeton, a person of interest in a murder investigation..

At age fifteen, Greer Templeton disappeared from Austin society after she was injured and her brother and his fiancée were killed in a car accident when she was driving. She cannot forgive herself and neither can her parents. They put her in Shady Grove, a ritzy place where “broken” rich children were sent to be “repaired.” Her Aunt Lydia, who owns a vineyard, comes for her when she is released from Shady Grove. With her aunt’s unconditional love and hard work day in and day out, Greer makes a life for herself.

Fulfilling a promise, she made to her dying aunt; Greer hires Mitch, a person Dr. Stewart at the crisis center recommended. This “good deed” really puts her in Ranger Bragg’s sights. He keeps close tabs on her and her activities.

As bodies pile up, all of them people who’d been in Shady Grove when Greer was there, the situation gets tense. Is she the killer? Even with this being a possibility, Ranger Bragg is attracted to her and she to him.

The possible suspects and spooky activity along with unidentified characters that slip in and out of the story, keep tension high. As new characters enter the story, I just knew I’d be able to guess who the killer or killers were. WOW, did I get a surprise!

Mary Burton never drops a single thread as she weaves a tale that involves so many characters with so many problems it makes one head swim. YOU’RE NOT SAFE is a gripping tale about people surviving the best they know how—some winning the battle and other losing.

Mary Burton delivers a scary suspense/ mystery story along with an in-depth look into the characters’ troubled personalities. EXCELLENT READING!

Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski

JONES
Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing=
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Historical
Length: Full Length (233 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Braineater Jones wakes up face down in a swimming pool with no memory of his former life, how he died, or why he’s now a zombie. With a smart-aleck severed head as a partner, Jones descends into the undead ghetto to solve his own murder.

But Jones’s investigation is complicated by his crippling addiction to human flesh. Like all walking corpses, he discovers that only a stiff drink can soothe his cravings. Unfortunately, finding liquor during Prohibition is costly and dangerous. From his Mason jar, the cantankerous Old Man rules the only speakeasy in the city that caters to the postmortem crowd.

As the booze, blood, and clues coagulate, Jones gets closer to discovering the identity of his killer and the secrets behind the city’s stranglehold on liquid spirits. Death couldn’t stop him, but if the liquor dries up, the entire city will be plunged into an orgy of cannibalism.

Cracking this case is a tall order. Braineater Jones won’t get out alive, but if he plays his cards right, he might manage to salvage the last scraps of his humanity.

The only thing worse than being murdered is waking up the next day with no memory of who you are or why there’s a gaping hole in your chest.

It took a little while for the character development to start happening in this book, but once it did I was glad for the delay. Building up such detailed descriptions of the personalities of the people involved first made their evolutions even more rewarding than they would have been otherwise. There were several developments that I didn’t see coming, especially when it came to the main character’s quest to discover his past.

One of the many mysteries that Braineater Jones has to unravel during the course of his adventures is who he was before he died. It was fun to see him slowly gather clues about his past, but I would have preferred for him to have a more humanizing undead name as he did it. I understand why the author wanted to start off with a character who has had literally everything from his former life stripped away. The name Braineater was too campy and distracting for my tastes, though. Braineater had some surprisingly empathetic streaks in his personality, and he deserved a zombie name that better represented that.

Mr. Kozeniewski has a tongue-in-cheek writing style that works incredibly well for this kind of tale. I didn’t read the first chapter so much as I absorbed it. Sometimes he made me laugh, cringe, and then gasp within a matter of minutes. This was my first introduction to his work. Based on how much I enjoyed it, I’ll be keeping a keen eye out for what he comes up with next.

I strongly recommend checking out the glossary at the end of this book to anyone who isn’t familiar with 1930s slang. While I knew many of those terms already, it was also helpful to look up the zombie-related jargon that is specific to this universe. Including the glossary was a great decision, and I’m glad that the author alerted me to its existence in the foreword.

Braineater Jones is one of the most entertaining horror novels I’ve read in 2014. This is a great choice for anyone in the mood for a genre-busting thriller!

Cold Ambition: Jordan James, PI Series by Rachel Sharpe

COLD
Cold Ambition: Jordan James, PI Series by Rachel Sharpe
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (297 Pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

“It was my life-long dream to become a private eye. Little did I know that with my very first case, that dream would become a life-threatening nightmare…”

When Jordan James decided to embark on a career as a private investigator, she never could have imagined that a chance encounter would lead to her staring down the barrel of a gun on the roof’s edge of a high-rise building. As she begins to investigate her first case, the puzzling murder of a prominent businessman that has left Boston’s finest mystified for more than two decades, she finds herself suddenly immersed in a treacherous underworld brimming with betrayal, raw greed, and political subterfuge of international proportions. In the midst of this, she discovers she is falling for her mysterious client despite the hints of his dark past. Can this feisty Southern girl with a penchant for trouble solve this baffling case or is she doomed to become another tragic chapter in an international conspiracy?

Jordan James left her home in Louisiana to attend Brown University. She graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in psychology and then moved to Boston, assuming that she’d land the perfect job. Reality set in and she ended up taking a job as a waitress. However, once she saved enough money she decided, in spite of her parents’ criticisms, to become a private investigator and set up her own business. All she needs now is clients. As she walks around the Boston Common looking for clients, she is hit by a bicyclist, resulting in a case, a volunteer assistant, and a broken arm.

Cold Ambition is a fast-paced thriller with a well-developed feisty PI. I really liked Jordan and I appreciated her determination to find her own path. She has problems dealing with her family and she sometimes doubts herself. But she tackles a very difficult cold case, determined to solve a twenty-one year old mystery.

The plot is complex and interesting. I thought I’d figured everything out, but there were twists and turns that I never saw coming. The supporting characters in the novel are interesting and very believable. I liked the dynamics between Jordan and Jon, her assistant, and Rick, her client. Both guys are obviously attracted to Jordan and she, equally obviously, is focused on solving the case and making a mark as a PI.

The action heats up quickly and I found that I couldn’t put the book down. There are car chases, threatening phone calls, and gunshots. Jordan has to work all the angles in both Boston and New York, and she does it all most capably.

Mystery fans are sure to enjoy the action in Cold Ambition. This is the first in what looks to be a wonderful mystery series and I shall be eager for more of Jordan’s adventures.

The Secret at Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery by R.M. Clark

FIELD
The Secret at Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery by R.M. Clark
Publisher: MB Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (130 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Twelve-year-old April O’Day’s summer has gotten off to a flying start. As the new bat retriever for the Harpoons, her hometown’s minor league team, she’s fetching bats and doling out great advice to players and coaches alike. In a word, she’s becoming indispensable. But mysterious things are happening at Haney Field, which April and her best friend – and fellow baseball enthusiast – Darren Plummer are determined to uncover. As they quickly learn, this is no ordinary season. In fact, it’s a whole new ball game.

Sometimes the past refuses to stay buried.

I liked April immediately. It was nice to meet a young adult character who doesn’t have any special powers or access to magical devices. April is quite well-read for her age, but other than that she’s a completely ordinary girl who has to rely on her own intelligence and resourcefulness to figure out what’s happening on Haney field.

It seemed odd to me that April had such a hard time finding out more information about the Negro Leagues at first. It would have made more sense a generation or two ago, but the Internet is full of people who are avid fans of all kinds of things. I’ve discovered blogs and websites about much more obscure historical events than this one. This is a minor criticism of an otherwise compelling story though.

The baseball glossary was a nice touch. I know almost nothing about that sport and would have had some trouble figuring out what certain characters were talking about without it. The concepts it discusses seem to be fairly basic, but it’s a good tool for those of us who need that kind of refresher.

The age recommendation for this tale needs an explanation. April is twelve, but she comes across as someone younger than that because of what she is and is not interested in. Eight is the youngest age I’d recommend this book to, though, due to some paranormal themes that might be a little too frightening for younger readers.

The Secret at Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery is a great choice for anyone who loves baseball or a spooky ghost story. I had a good time reading it and will be recommending it family members and young friends in this age range!

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

WERIDO
Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth
Publisher: Spiderline
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (407 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Corinne Woodrow was fifteen when she was convicted of the ritualistic murder of her classmate in a quaint seaside town. It was 1984, a year when teenagers ran wild, dressed in black, stayed out all night, and listened to music that terrified their parents. Rumours of Satanism surrounded Corinne and she was locked up indefinitely, a chilling reminder to the parents of Ernemouth to keep a watchful eye on their children.

Twenty years later, private investigator Sean Ward — whose promising career as a detective with the Metropolitan Police was cut short by a teenager with a gun — reopens the case after new forensic evidence suggests that Corinne didn’t act alone. His investigation uncovers a town full of secrets, and a community that has always looked after its own.

Weirdo’s premise has all the makings of a top-notch suspense novel, cold case, ritualistic murder, young girl now locked up in a mental hospital, and new DNA evidence. I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint me in any way.

It’s told in two time periods, that of present day and also the time leading up to the murder. It’s skillfully handled and reads smoothly as it goes from one era to another.

The cast of characters was great. You might not like all of them, but you can’t help getting pulled into their story and lives. They’re an odd bunch but that’s what makes it such a compelling read. The setting of a small coastal town in Norfolk, England was the icing on the cake, and I think it really added another entertain layer to this dark mystery.

The one thing I loved best about this book was it kept me guessing. Ms. Unsworth didn’t cheat the reader on any details as it what happened and who was involved. Like good writing should be, each chapter you read was like peeling an orange and pulling apart its sections. It had me thinking one way but in the next chapter I discovered I was wrong which for someone who reads lots of mysteries was very refreshing.

Despite its length this book is fast paced. I found myself reading on just a few more chapters each time I sat down. The last third really kicks into high gear and you find yourself not wanting to stop until you’ve read the end. I won’t give it away but the author doesn’t disappoint and the payoff is well worth your extra time reading non-stop.

I haven’t read any of Ms. Unsworth’s other books but now I think I’m hooked and will be looking for other titles.

If you’re a fan of dark mysteries I highly recommend Weirdo for your upcoming fall reading list.

Amethyst Refrain by Kalliope Bell

REFRAIN
Amethyst Refrain by Kalliope Bell
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lily Graves possesses the gift of psychometry. She reads the history of an item through touch. When an amethyst necklace brings back the memory of her murder in a past life, Lily comes face to face with her guardian, Edgar Grant.

Edgar Grant has served as Lily’s guardian throughout several lifetimes, reaching her only through thoughts and dreams. Armed with the knowledge of Lily’s destiny and charged with protecting her, Edgar must help her stop history from repeating itself.

When Lily recalls Edgar’s refusal to believe her fears in the past, she must decide if she can trust him…and love him…in the present. And if she does, can she love a man who exists only in spirit form?

Some abilities come with a price.

My favorite passages in this tale went into detail about what Lily can and can’t do with her gift. As someone who had never heard of psychometry before, I was glad that the author spent so much time showing how Lily uses it. None of the explanations slowed down the plot at all because they were so embedded into everything else that was going on. Psychometry sounds like such a cool ability to possess!

There were some things I never understood about Edgar and Lily’s relationship. In certain sections it’s written in ways that made me think those scenes were intended to be taken as grand romantic gestures, yet I was surprised by how much Edgar wanted to be in control of everything that happened to Lily. It struck me as a little over the top given how well she’s managed this lifetime so far. I would have liked to know more about her reaction to this part of his personality as it’s not something that I’d find endearing if I were in her shoes.

This short story weaves mystery, romance, and science fiction together seamlessly. I really enjoy reading books that are comfortable mixing so many different types of fiction together. When its done well it brings out the best in every genre that’s represented, and I was pleased by how the author chose to bind everything together.

I’d recommend Amethyst Refrain to anyone who is in the mood to dabble in several different genres simultaneously.

Heinous by Debra Webb

HEINOUS
Heinous by Debra Webb
Publisher: Pink House Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (300 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

The body count is rising. The serial killer obsessed with Birmingham’s Deputy Chief Jess Harris is getting closer, and he knows Jess’s secret. Can she protect the child she carries and the people she loves from Eric Spears and his followers?

The body farm discovered in a small Alabama town has many buried secrets. Is the truth about Jess’s past buried there too? Will learning what really happened to her mother and father help Jess stop the killer determined to have her?

Serial killer Eric Spears is closing in on Jess Harris and her posse of detectives. Women are still missing and time is running out. But Jess’ life isn’t nearly that simple, she has more on her plate than just finding The Player before he kills again. Someone is trying to frame Chief of Police, Dan Burnett and the mystery surrounding the death of Jess’ parents is slowly coming together, a piece at a time. Deputy Chief Harris doesn’t know which way to turn and if she’s not careful, it could be her ultimate undoing.

With each and every installment in this series, Jess and Dan grow closer together. No matter what kind of atrocity is happening around them, their love and devotion to one another remains steadfast. Even with the accusations of Dan being a dirty cop don’t tarnish Jess’ love for him. I’m very happy to see that they aren’t constantly at odds with one another any longer, although in the beginning it was understandable. They’ve morphed into a real couple at this point, and although they still disagree, it isn’t with the headstrong, I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong attitude that colored many of their early confrontations.

The author supplies us with fascinating side characters as well, each with their own intriguing story. I’ve enjoyed learning about Jess’ sister, Chet and Lori, and all the rest. To further add to the suspense of the novel, there is one member of Jess’ team that I don’t quite trust. I’ll be interested to see if he’s on the up and up or not.

I have been in love with this series from the very first book, Obsession. Ms. Webb has an amazing knack for weaving an intense, intriguing backstory throughout a series while also giving secondary storylines that wrap up in one novel. This, in addition to the myriad characters, is what keeps me coming back time and time again to this series. It doesn’t hurt any that each novel ends in a cliffhanger either. I think I’ll be a little heartbroken when this ends.

Eden’s Present by Adam Carpenter

PRESENT
Eden’s Present by Adam Carpenter
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (172 pages)
Other: M/M, Multiple Partners, Anal Play, Voyeurism
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Chad Singleton discovered a shocking truth at the conclusion of Eden’s Past, and now the revelation threatens to undo everything he’s achieved since he returned to his hometown of Eden. His job with rival relatives at Harte Industries, his relationship with his feisty grandmother, and most of all, his steamy, no-holds-barred love affair with the local chief of police, burly Brett Ellers.

But it’s the sexy stranger in Eden, William Kelton, who will most affect Chad, the two of them bound by intrigue, betrayal and a mutual attraction. As the mystery deepens surrounding his father’s death, Chad buries his wounded heart in Kelt’s welcoming arms. But the surprises have only just begun, the biggest of which will forever change his life.

In Eden, even the wealthy—especially the wealthy—have secrets.

As the mystery surrounding his father’s death only deepens, Chad finds himself without an anchor. Trying to focus on his work at Harte Industries, he throws himself into it and into a relationship with William Kelton, a stranger passing through town with a mission of his own. Will Chad be able to discover what happened to his dad? And will he ever be able to grasp his heart’s desire?

Chad is a little all over the place in this second installment in the Eden series, but with good cause. Everything he thought he knew is being thrown into chaos. More secrets are revealed and even more are hinted at, giving him much to speculate on. More of his true self shows and he continues to grow and become more of a real person than he was at the start of the first book.

William Kelton, better known as Kelt, takes front stage in this novel, edging the attractive police chief off to the side. Passing through town in an effort to find out how his ex-lover, Ken, died. I like Kelt, his dedication to his ex-lover, although they’d been apart for quite some time, is sweet. Also, I think there’s more to him than we know so far and I wonder if he’ll make an appearance in the next installment.

Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Eden’s Present ends on one heck of a cliffhanger, stopping right after a major revelation. I was rather stunned by this revelation, thinking it would be one thing when it wound up being something else completely. Needless to say, I’m anxiously awaiting the next novel in this series! The author has a real talent for building suspense right up to the very last word. The Eden series only gets better and more tangled as we move forward. I wonder what the author has in store for us next? Hopefully some answers to the questions that have been brewing since book one!

Deeper Than Need by Shiloh Walker

NEED
Deeper Than Need by Shiloh Walker
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (384 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Time heals all wounds

Eager to put a dark, troubled past behind her, Trinity Ewing buys an old house that will make the perfect refuge for her and her young son once renovations are complete. The last thing on her mind is finding someone new…but the contractor she’s hired is an irresistible distraction—and Trinity can’t help but fantasize about all the business they could be doing behind closed doors.

So does one man’s touch

Noah Benningfield thought he’d put his demons behind him. But the moment he lays eyes on Trinity, the temptation he feels is too powerful to deny. Soon the attraction between them explodes into something neither of them could have imagined. But their desire will be put to the test when a shocking local murder has them dodging danger at every turn. Can the beautiful and damaged Trinity trust someone like Noah, whose own past is as haunted as her own? The only thing she knows for sure is that she can’t live without a man who makes her feel this good—over and over again…

Trinity Ewing is trying to put her troubled past behind her. When she moves into her new house, she has no way of knowing she’s moving out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Noah Benningfield has troubles of his own. His demons haunt his dreams and waking hours. When he sees Trinity, he thinks maybe there is a chance to find something more.

Deeper Than Need had a good premise. Two characters with haunted pasts coming together in a house with a less than savory history. Trinity needs a new start with her son and Noah wants to silence the voices that keep him up half the night. Organizing the clean-up and repairs for the old Frampton place, the two find the past is very much alive-or dead if you count the body waiting for them underneath the floorboards of the house.

Just like that a local murder is discovered, and with it the door to the past is wrenched open. Two wounded characters fumble their way through attraction, murder, taking care of Trinity’s son and the deaths of kids under Noah’s protection. The story spins up and the plot has some interesting twists. Bodies. A murderous history in Trinity’s new house. Missing kids. Missing women. Addiction. Coping. Random sex with people who hate each other.

I hadn’t read any of the previous novels/novellas in this series. From the start I felt like I was missing something. Pieces that should have made sense didn’t as a stand-alone book. The other issue I had was I could not connect with the characters. They were not relatable to me. I tried to like Trinity, but ended up being annoyed with her most of the time. Her thoughts were disjointed and much of her thoughts about Noah were insipid and repetitive. Noah was much more likeable because of his work with troubled kids, but even still the back and forth of the foreshadowing was distracting. I kept putting the book down and had to struggle my way through to the end.

One thing about the book that did resonate with me was the aspect of healing as part of the reconstructive process. Noah wasn’t just there helping Trinity repair her house, a house that held a prominent place in his past. He was rebuilding himself along the way. Trinity was as well. They both had shattered and scarred lives and were desperately trying to build something on a solid foundation. That something just happened to be a house with a body buried beneath it. The love Trinity bears for her son and her willingness to sacrifice herself for his safety was also something I appreciated.

This book is more mystery than a contemporary romance.  The mystery and sinister goings on were a good start. Not being able to connect to the people and feeling lost really put a damper on this story for me. If you are going to read it, I would go back and read the beginning. It would have filled in some of the plot holes.

An interesting mystery with some potential as a series.