July Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense Book of the Month Poll

Deception Cove by Jayne Castle

CASTLE
Deception Cove by Jayne Castle
Publisher: Jove Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (254 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

In the world of Harmony, Rainshadow Island is home to a mysterious preserve, secrets that have been kept for centuries, and a treasure worth killing for…

As a light-talent, Alice North has the rare ability to make things disappear, including herself—a gift that comes in handy during her magic act with her dust bunny Houdini.

Business mogul Drake Sebastian is day-blind, since his sight was nearly destroyed in a lab accident. But he’s the one man who can see Alice when she disappears—and he needs her.

On Rainshadow Island, two dangerous Old World crystals are missing, igniting a paranormal storm. Drake thinks Alice is the key to finding them, and proposes they head there, but only after a Marriage of Convenience.

Alice’s honeymoon on Rainshadow is guaranteed to be memorable, as the island—and the passion between her and Drake—is about to explode…

Houdini is the best name for a dust bunny. Those little fluff balls are my favorite characters in all of the Rainshadow and Harmony novels. Deception Cove has been out for a while and I know I’ve read it before, but, I forgot and bought it again. It took me until I was half way through the book before I remembered parts of the story and the light bulb went off. The book was as fascinating and surprising as the first time around so I can claim unequivocally that this book has awesome re-readability.

One thing I simply did not remember was the revelation of the origin of the dust bunnies that inhabit the whole planet. I’m glad I forgot the first time because I got to relive the wonder, amazement and astonishment at what I learned. How Drake figured out how to unlock the secrets was page turning. In fact, this whole book is a page turner. Every chapter brought with it clues as to what it might be that is messing with the water, causing ginormous cockroaches to appear and who ultimately is behind the chaos. Once the body appeared, then things really got interesting. Who wants Alice dead? Why? She’s an orphan, what could she possible know? The heroine finds out part of the truth early on but the rest is shared with readers later and it’s a humdinger.

Drake is like most of Ms. Castle’s heroes – dominant, commanding, icy, and so passionately sexy once they focus on the women they fall in love with, readers might get hot flashes. Unlike some of the heroes in past books, Drake is less overbearing and annoying and more like a partner and protector of Alice. His feelings for her are clear by his actions and how he responds to people about her, then anything he actually says to the heroine. When it comes to her, his body language is very convincing. What a yummy guy.

Another thing that kept the pages turning was the cast of characters. There’s someone that doesn’t ring true, some that do, the kids and their games with the dust bunnies, and then there’s the almost mother-in-law from looney land who has a lot of money and a lot of hate. I thought for sure things would wrap up with her being the culprit but there’s a clever twist. She’s involved but not. You have to read the novel to figure out that kink.

My favorite part about these novels is the happy ever after. Just when you think it’s about to wrap up, the author slides in that extra oomph that makes a reader’s jaw drop and only then does the happy ever after get finished. It’s like eating the last of the best cereal in the world and you’re sad, until you find the secret toy at the bottom. It’s all good but the best is saved for last. That’s what it’s like for me reading a Jayne Castle book. I can count on a great story with a lot of action, suspense, drama, humor, fascinating references to aliens, a different culture and weapons and animal names. And the one other thing that is a constant is the wonderfully sensual, sexy romance that blossoms between, in this case, Drake and Alice. Deception Cove delivers to readers the high standard and quality of writing Ms. Castle is known for. I’m a happy reader and am thrilled to recommend to any fans of Ms. Castle’s who might have missed it the first time around. And, for those that have never read a book in the series, they’re in for a treat because it’s a standalone. So, pick up a copy of Deception Cove and fall in love too.

Energized by Mary Behre

ENERGIZED
Energized by Mary Behre
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (299 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

She’s searching for a sign…

Hannah Halloran has always believed in her gift. The things she sees through her psychic touch have never led her wrong before. Not when they led her to an unforgettable night with a sexy marine at a bar. Not when she felt a need to leave her home and find the sisters she barely knows. And not now, when she is an unwilling witness to a brutal murder…

He’s ready to show her…

All Niall Graham wants is some peace. He’s recovering from the horrors of war, struggling to save his family’s restaurant, and desperate to forget Hannah, the beautiful woman who left him with memories of a mind-blowing night together and a bogus phone number. But a quiet life is hard to manage—especially when Hannah strides back into his restaurant with the news that a serial killer is on the loose and lurking closer than anyone could have guessed…

The previous novella, Harmonized, had a mystery and drama too, but it was more like the calm before a storm. It was a great lead in for this next book. Energized is like a hurricane of storytelling; with so much action and amazing clues being tossed my way, it was hard to put the book down. And I didn’t want to. What an amazing read!

The first chapter doesn’t really clue a reader in on what is going to happen but it does present some wonderful snappy dialogue, great man/woman flirting and insight as to the hero’s frame of mind. The author showed a reader two people who, although strangers, ignited a special spark of … something … that romance readers will interpret correctly. There’s a lot of emotion packed into that first chapter but the best is yet to come.

The conflict, referenced very briefly in Harmonized, takes on an ominous and freaky turn and becomes a full blown murder mystery with time being of the essence. Thing is, no one knows. The author clues a reader in who just might be the next victim and it gave me goosebumps. At no time did I guess who the villain was so I was just as shocked and horrified as the heroine.

I know I should be sharing about how wonderful Niall and Hannah are together, because they are. They are awesome. But what really stuck with me was how the author had me in the villain’s head, reliving memories of youth – all the pain, the horror and the twisted forms of abuse received. It was like a train wreck – hard to look away from because it’s so stunning and unexpected. And when the clues finally came together, I was dumbfounded. Hannah was shocked and totally grossed out. As well she should be. I wanted to feel sad for the villain because the bad person was as much a victim as the future victims of the resulting personality the villain became. I am having a hard time not giving spoilers here because it’s really incredible. Let’s just say that Ms. Behre created a villain that was truly irredeemable. I can’t see how romantic suspense fans can be anything else but wowed by this novel. I know I was.

On the lighter side of things, Hannah is finally reunited with her sisters. How it happens in the course of the story is another amazing feat of storytelling. The author did not do it simply or easily, which added to my being unable to put the book down. Every time I thought it was going to happen, something else did and I was thrown for a loop every time. Especially at the wedding reception where I believe I yelled at the book, ‘Seriously? Now? Oh, come on!” – in the best possible way. I thought for sure Hannah was a goner. How exciting!

Getting back to the man/woman thing between Hannah and Niall, it was many things: sweet, funny, tender, exasperating, sexy, okay, VERY sexy, exciting, thrilling, sad, happy – pick an emotion, it’s all there, including fear. The one thing that stood out for me was Hannah’s calling Niall, Marine. It’s one word but it carries a wealth of meaning in this story. You’ll see when you read it. For me, it was extremely romantic and sweet – eventually.

There is a great happy ever after wrap up and for all the drama there is quite a bit of humor sprinkled throughout the novel. There are family issues, job issues, electrical issues and cooking issues. There is a great supporting cast and it was fun to see Karma still giving Zig some zings and kisses. There’s even a couple of dramatic rescues that almost led to hyperventilation – the writing was that tight and strong.

All in all, Energized knocked my socks off. It’s a powerful, well written mystery with a romance that made me melt. It’s a keeper, it’s a solid recommend and it’s a testament of Ms. Behre’s storytelling talents. Romantic suspense readers can’t go wrong when they read books by Ms. Behre – she delivers solid high quality novels that are well worth the time spent reading. Energized is a winner. And, I’m a very happy reader.

Branded By Frost by Aliyah Burke

ROST
Branded By Frost by Aliyah Burke
Publisher: Totally Bound Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (167 Pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Fuchsia

Beneath the cold can sometimes lie the hottest of heats.

Aminta Tran is a helicopter pilot sent to Alaska to fill in as a replacement until the rescue team gets a new pilot. The man who comes to get her is Dex Collins, the team’s second in command. While there’s instant attraction between them, she remains focused on doing her job and finding her artifact.

Dex isn’t sure what to make of the newest team member. They’re sharing space and each day it’s harder for him to remember the line between professional and personal.

When it comes to light he’s who she is destined to be with, will they be able to weather the storm brewing both between and surrounding them?

Aminta Tran is one of the six chosen to be part of the Astral Guardians, protectors of the world. Her sign is the Ram and her first love is flying… until Dex Collins comes into the picture. There is an instant attraction, one so strong that neither one can ignore it.

Dex Collins was sent to pick up the pilot that was going to temporarily fill in for his rescue squad in Alaska. He never expected the pilot to be female and so little. He even wondered if she had the strength to handle a chopper, all he knew is that thoughts of seeing her naked ran rampant through his mind.

Aminta Tran is a strong female who is capable, sarcastic and fearless, however, there is a vulnerability to her that the author lets shine through so that you can really invest in her. The chemistry between Aminta and Dex is explosive, and I loved how he respected and admired her strength, but showed his alpha side when needed.

The other characters in the book complemented one another and reading the other books in the series helped to enhance this story. Aliyah Burke is one of my favorite authors; she is a story teller, she creates stories that capture your attention from the first paragraph. Her female characters are strong and the men that fall for them are their complete match in all things.

Dex and Aminta was like that, they complimented one another and when he found out what she was he embraced it even though he didn’t completely understand it. That alone made me root for this couple.

This is book four in the Astral Guardians series; it can read as a standalone however I would suggest that you start with the first book which is Keeper of the Stars. That way you can become familiar with all the characters and won’t feel lost.

Branded by Frost is a must read, between the helicopter rescues, the demon fights and the love story between Dex and Aminta, and it is a true love story, you will have many hours of pure entertainment.

Final Solstice by David Sakmyster

FINAL
Final Solstice by David Sakmyster
Publisher: WordFire Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (298 Pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Climate change is man-made, but caused by just a powerful few known as Druids.

When successful meteorologist Mason Griers is recruited to consult for a mysterious environmental firm, it’s the perfect chance to put his lifetime obsession with violent weather to practical use. Solstice Inc. promises a new technology that can accurately predict, and possibly control, catastrophic weather events around the world. Too late however, Mason learns that Solstice is made up of high ranking and powerful Druids, and he’s become an unwitting tool in the firm’s dark plot that could remake the world on a scale not seen since the last great extinction.

Mason Grier is flattered when he is recruited by Solstice Synergistic, Inc. After all, he is only a weatherman for a San Diego television station. He accepts the job right away when Solstice’s medical advances cure his daughter’s deafness. He doesn’t really think things through or examine the company at all. He just gets caught up in the moment. However, all too soon he begins to discover that Solstice has the power to change weather, making catastrophic storms at the wave of their Druid staffs. In addition, they have an agenda to stop global warming in ways that will cause mass extinctions. As Avery Solomon, the head of Solstice says to those Druids who want a more peaceful change, “You speak of balance, and I tell you, I am merely righting the balance, restoring power to where it belongs. Not with man and his technology and his medical miracles and his immunizations and ecological re-engineering. That is what has usurped the balance.”

Final Solstice is a very timely and engaging story. I found it especially powerful as I suffer through a very dry hot summer. Mason is obviously in over his head and it isn’t immediately obvious why Solomon has picked him or what he is supposed to do. I found Mason to be likeable and maybe a bit naïve and out of his element. However, he cares deeply for his family and he is a quick learner, especially when he is helped by the Druids who oppose Solomon.

Fantasy and mystery fans alike will enjoy this novel. It is filled with information about both weather and global warming, and the plot is well-grounded in facts. The mysteries abound and Mason has to work hard to become a force in his own right, rather than just Solomon’s puppet. Can he change the path that Solomon has set? Can he do it before the Earth is destroyed? Time is not on Mason’s side. This is a novel that isn’t easily set aside or forgotten.

Time’s Up by Janey Mack

TIME
Time’s Up by Janey Mack
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (356 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

The police academy gave her the boot—and she knows how to use it.
All her life, Maisie McGrane dreamed of following in her father and older brothers’ footsteps and joining the force. But when she’s expelled from the police academy, she’s reduced to taking a job as a meter maid. Now, instead of chasing down perps, she’s booting people’s cars and taking abuse from every lowlife who can’t scrape together enough change to feed the meter.

McGranes weren’t put on this earth to quit, however. When Maisie stumbles across the body of a City Hall staffer with two bullets in his chest, her badge-wielding brothers try to warn her off the case. But with the help of her secret crush, shadowy ex-Army Ranger Hank Bannon, Maisie’s determined to follow the trail of conspiracy no matter where it leads. And that could put her in the crosshairs of a killer—and all she’s packing is a ticket gun.

All Maisie wants to do is become a cop like her father and her brothers. Her mother is a lawyer, but that’s not for Maisie. So all her hopes and dreams come down around like a collapsed air balloon when she’s told she has flunked the academy because of her psychological test. She wants people to like her and that’s impossible when you’re a cop. Now what will she do?

This author wanted to be a cop and her father wouldn’t allow her to do so. This book is a story that’s based on that premise but Maisie refuses to give up. She’s an easily likeable character because she’s so determined and focused on her goals she’s almost not protecting herself from political or physical danger. It’s a good thing she has lots of brothers to protect her and a very supportive family (for the most part).

Ms. Mack has the tone and quality of writing that reminds me of Janet Evanovich. I enjoyed the story and the style it was written in.

Maisie is almost in despair when she comes up with the idea of going into the world of parking enforcement. Her brother, Cash, gave her that idea and she’s going to run with it. She does and it doesn’t take long until she’s cross-wise with the Mayor. That’s not a good start for her…

There’s murder, a bomb, hot politicking and a family trying to warn her off, but Maisie is her own person and she muddles her way through.

The best part, though, is her hot boyfriend. He reminds me of Ranger in the Evanovich books. He’s a mean human weapon who has taught her skills that come in handy in this story and he’s determined to take care of her. What more could you want? Thoroughly enjoyable.

Trauma by Michael Palmer and Daniel Palmer

TRAUMA
Trauma, by Michael Palmer and Daniel Palmer
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (381 pgs)
Rated: 4 Stars
Review by Snapdragon

Dr. Carrie Bryant’s four years as a neurosurgical resident at White Memorial Hospital have earned her the respect and admiration from peers and staff alike. When given the chance of performing her first unsupervised brain surgery, Carrie jumps at the opportunity.
What should have been a routine, hours long operation, turns horribly wrong and jeopardizes her patient’s life. Emotionally and physically drained, Carrie is rushed back to the OR to assist in a second surgery. There, she makes a careless and tragic mental error resulting in irreparable brain damage to her second patient. With her confidence shattered, Carrie quits her residency and moves back home where her younger brother, Adam, a combat vet suffering from debilitating PTSD, also lives.

When Carrie learns about an experimental program at the VA Medical Center exploring the use of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) that could forever cure the emotional and memory trauma of PTSD, it seems like a way back into medicine. Carrie is apprehensive, but a chance meeting with David Hoffman, a reporter for the Lowell Observer writing a story on PTSD, helps her overcome any hesitation.

Her first surgery appears to be a success until her patient mysteriously vanishes. When a second patient also goes missing, Carrie employees the investigative skills of David, and together they descend into a labyrinth of murder and corruption. And the price Carrie might pay for asking the wrong questions could be her life.

Neurosurgeon Carrie Bryant is considered competent and compassionate–but that compassion, that empathy for her patients, might be her biggest challenge. When things go wrong in one surgery, her self-esteem takes a beating.

In running from this one disaster, she charges into something far more sinister. That darkness exists is a given, but through the compelling story of veteran Steve Abington, with his life on the streets and gradual, increasing sinking toward violence, we discover the value of Bryant’s work. And more: for although this has elements of personal growth story, it is in a far more complex framework.

In her familiar home locale, Dr. Bryant goes back to work, but things, somehow, inexplicably, go wrong. Suddenly, she’s not investigating a medical issue, but a horrific crime. (More than one!) No spoilers here: the investigation carries this story, although there are other good points.

This medical thriller is very character-driven, holds reader’s attention well, and does not wallow in so much medical jargon as to become incomprehensible. I also really enjoyed some of the light, accurate descriptions of different places; from the familiar old type of coffee shop that isn’t a slick new drive-up, but has seats near a fireplace, a look at Hopkinton (near Boston) and up the coast of Maine, as well. I’d hope for a little less predictability, overall.

Mystery and thriller readers will find a lot to like here.

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

ROW
Sycamore Row by John Grisham
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (449 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County’s most notorious citizens, just three years earlier.

The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?

You never know what secrets people are hiding until it all comes out in court…

I like Grisham’s novels. I know when I crack one of these babies, I’m going to get a rich story, full of interesting characters and a vibrant landscape. I wasn’t disappointed with this book. Sycamore Row takes place four years after A Time to Kill and is a good follow-up. I must admit, every time Jake, the lawyer and protagonist is mentioned, I pictured him as Matthew McConaughey. Not a bad visual and Grisham described him that way, too, so it all worked.

There were times in this book where the POV hopped. One sentence would be in one character’s head, then a whole few pages in another, then to a third character for another couple of lines. That could be confusing for some readers. I was able to follow along, but it wasn’t ideal.

This book also has racial undertones. If that’s not the kind of story you want, then it might not be the book for you. That said, this book takes place in Mississippi in the late 1980’s, in a time where race is important.

There are twists, turns and things I didn’t see coming in the story. I won’t give away much, but I couldn’t put the book down. I had to know what would happen next and how it would all work out.

I enjoyed this book and would love to spend more time in the world of Jake, Portia, Carla and the rest of the town of Clanton. If you like a mystery with a small town twist, then this might be the book for you.

Shallow Graves by Christina Wolfer

SHALLOW
Shallow Graves by Christina Wolfer
Publisher: Turquoise Morning Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (185 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Be Careful What Secrets You Dig Up

When a young girl’s body is discovered in a shallow grave on a farm outside of Ripley, Ohio, FBI Agent Kendal McNally returns to her estranged hometown to investigate. The similarities to another murder on the same farm seventeen years earlier is unnerving, not to mention the fact that she helped put her best friend’s father behind bars for the crime. Her search for the truth puts her in the middle of a serial killer’s graveyard.

Reed Harvey’s life was turned upside down when his father was convicted of murder. It didn’t help that Kendal had been the key witness in the trial or that she turned her back on him and their friendship. Now she has returned to investigate another murder, living in an apartment above his restaurant and making him remember what almost was.

Despite their pasts, Kendal and Reed turn to each other as Kendal’s investigation unravels a web of lies in a town where everyone thought they knew everyone’s business. And when another girl goes missing, Kendal will unearth a devastating secret that may put an end to the murders—except one. Hers.

Can Kendal right the wrongs of the past?

Kendal is definitely a tough heroine. After escaping a physically and emotionally abusive father, Kendal built a successful career as an FBI agent. She never dreamed she go back to her hometown on a case she’s personally connected too. Her homecoming to Ripley is very awkward, especially given her father’s position in the community. All of their interactions are toxic and prone to exploding into scary confrontations. In addition to facing her father, Kendal also comes face to face with her former best friend and first love, Reed.

Kendal and Reed are beyond damaged by their pasts. I couldn’t help but mourn the loss of their innocence and how wonderful their budding young romance might have been. Kendal and Reed constantly doubt the other’s motivations. They have spent years keeping people at arm’s length. Kendal in particular seems to be obsessed with never letting anyone see her as weak. While I understand that Kendal and Reed have had to be strong to overcome the challenges they’ve faced in life, they just don’t seem to know when to quit. They are so busy trying to protect themselves that they fail to see the damage they do to each other. It is frustrating to watch them together because it is clear that they have strong feelings for each other, but refuse to admit it. As I read, I couldn’t help but think that one honest conversation would work wonders for the couple. Even though the road to their happy ending is going to be bumpy, I think it will all be worth it in the end.

I must say that Ms. Wolfer knows how to write a good suspense. The pacing in Shallow Graves is excellent, and I could hardly put the book down once I started it. It is difficult to figure out who the murderer is because there are several plausible suspects. The ending is well done and very satisfying. Although I must say there is still a bit of a loose end where Kendal’s father is concerned. I would really have liked to see him pay for some of the terrible things he’s done. However, I can safely assure readers that his life will never be the same now that his secrets are out.

Shallow Graves is a thoroughly enjoyable book. The characters are well rounded and the pacing kept me on the edge of my seat. I highly recommend it to fans of romantic suspense.

Justice Prevails by Morticia Knight

JUSTICE
Justice Prevails by Morticia Knight
Publisher: Totally Bound
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (162 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Play
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Never judge a sexy man by his cover.

Detective Beau Williams is hardworking, dedicated and professional. He enjoys the finer things in life, but with his heavy caseload that includes what Beau suspects is a new serial killer, he has no time to enjoy much of anything. What the tall redhead needs is someone to shake him up a little.

Investigative Technician Austin Kent never met a snarky joke he didn’t like—or a set of stairs that couldn’t trip him up. One night after a devastating episode at work, Austin sees something else he likes—the handsome detective he’s seen around the station whom he’s always wondered about. But after he makes a drunken fool of himself in front of Detective Williams, he’s sure there’s no hope.

Beau and Austin’s worlds collide when Austin is sent to pick up some evidence at the station. Amidst a myriad of twists and turns in the troubling serial killer-style murders of Vegas conventioneers, Austin and Beau discover that there’s more to the other than they’d originally thought. There might even be more they’d like to give—unless the killer has the final say.

Things are never quiet on the Las Vegas Strip. Just ask Detective Beau Williams, homicide detective for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Just as he thinks he might be able to take some time off, have a couple drinks, and relax, another body is found, leading him to believe a serial killer is on the loose. Each time a conventioneer disappears, he’s pulled deeper into the mystery, but will he ever catch the person responsible?

Detective Beau Williams has his hands full with his day job as a homicide detective for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. This leaves him with little time to do anything but catch bad guys. But he sucks it up, does his job, and sneaks out for a little fun when he can. It also makes him a bit touchy and uptight as well, which I guess is understandable. Once I got past all of his walls and prickliness, I started to like him a lot. He’s patient, he’s kind, and he’s a redhead. With a beard no less. He’s very much an alpha male, which generally isn’t something I care for, but in a police officer, I think it’s more natural assertiveness and less arrogance.

Austin Kent started out as an adorable dork. He’s clumsy, he’s insecure, and that’s really endearing. The problem with Austin, however, is that he can’t move past it. The clumsiness is there for life, trust me, I know that one firsthand. But even once he knows that Beau’s into him, he can’t accept it and constantly throws up snarky responses to everything. Once he finally relaxed enough to see the truth, he did settle down, which made me very happy because he and Beau really were good together.

This third installment in the Sin City Uniforms series is probably one of my favorites to date. I really like how the author will introduce a character in a prior book before giving them their own story. It helps garner a little added interest as far as I’m concerned. You recognize the name and remember how he’d helped someone in the book before so you know you’re going in liking the main character. A steamy and sexy story coupled with an intense mystery makes for a very enjoyable read.