Final Exit by Lena Diaz

Final Exit by Lena Diaz
Publisher: Avon Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (273 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

After a tragic mistake nearly destroyed his life, Special Agent Kade Quinn will do whatever it takes to save his career. His latest mission? Track and capture the remaining EXIT operatives to determine if they’re still a threat. But his next target—a stunning female assassin—is both elusive and dangerously appealing.

Bailey Stark has outsmarted the FBI so far, but she’s tired of running. Tired of watching her friends ambushed by government agents in tactical gear and never seen again. She suspects they aren’t being evaluated—they’re being exterminated—and she’s determined to convince Agent Quinn his mission is a lie before it’s too late. Bailey doesn’t want to rely on him. She definitely shouldn’t desire him. But she knows teaming up with the skilled, sexy agent may be her only hope.

Kade doesn’t want to believe Bailey’s claims, but he promises to keep her safe. Trusting one another is difficult. Fighting their attraction is harder. And as they uncover the disturbing truth behind his mission . . . staying alive will be nearly impossible.

Off and running from the get-go, Final Exit is a deadly, high-stakes hide-and-seek game that takes the reader on scary adventures. Who is friend and who is foe becomes extremely iffy as the story unfolds.

There is so much clandestine action going on, it is amazing how this author handles it all; all the while creating a second chance love story that reaches right in and grabs the reader’s heart.

Special Agent Kade Quinn, wanting desperately to get his career back on track after being seriously injuried, works with newbie agents he knows nothing about. His mission is to roundup the last of the reluctant Enforcers of EXIT Inc. so they can be retained to fit into normal society. Alan Faegan, Kade’s boss, is willing to give Kade information only on need-to-know bases.

Bailey Sparks, an Enforcer, eludes Kade’s team again and again. She is not convinced “retraining” is really what they plan to do with the Enforcers. She has connections with the Equalizers, agents once in EXIT Inc. but left and formed a group of their own. They want to recruit Bailey, but she isn’t sure about their mission either.

How the author weaves in intriguing back stories, unique settings, and a sizzling love story along with all the violent action keeps Final Exit racing along from one captivating adventure to another, making it a stay-up-late, adrenaline-pumping read.

The writing style of Lena Diaz is a perfect fit for this kind of thriller romance.

The Dogs of Devonshire by Demetrius Sherman

The Dogs of Devonshire by Demetrius Sherman
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (25 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Dr. Sacker gets a phone call that could get him killed. Sacker’s consulting detective friend invites him to a dangerous case. Something attacks like a wild beast and disappears. And to stop the killings, the two must come face to face with whatever is out there.

Dogs don’t usually attack people for no reason. The question is, why are these particular dogs so vicious?

The idea of being violently attacked by a dog in a public place frightens me. As soon as I read the blurb for the story, I couldn’t wait to find out why this was happening and if Sheridan Hope and Dr. Sacker would be able to figure out a way to stop it before more victims were killed or seriously injured. The more that I learned about this case, the more interested I became in seeing how it would end as well.

There were pacing issues. The narrator spent a disproportionate amount of time introducing the characters and describing the death of the first victim in this case. As fascinated as I was by all of this information, it didn’t leave much room in the plot for the characters to uncover new clues or for them to piece everything together.

One of the things I liked the most about this tale was how much attention the narrator gave to little details when he was describing how the victims were attacked.Those scenes were bloody and full of fear. The pain and horror of them made me cringe at times, but knowing exactly what happened to the people who were targeted by the dogs was important for figuring out where these creatures came from and why they were so dangerous.

I’d recommend The Dogs of Devonshire to anyone who is looking for a dark mystery.

An Act of Murder by Mary Angela

An Act of Murder by Mary Angela
Publisher: Camel Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (228 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

In the sleepy college town of Copper Bluff, South Dakota, English professor Emmeline Prather is enjoying the start of a new semester. But when one of her students dies working on the fall musical, it disrupts life on the small, quiet campus. Although the police rule the death accidental, Prof. Prather has good reason to suspect foul play.

Unmasking the murderer proves much more challenging than finding dangling participles, so Em recruits fellow English professor Lenny Jenkins for assistance. Together, they comb the campus and vicinity for clues, risking their reputations and possibly their jobs. After an intruder breaks into Em’s house, Lenny advises caution—and perhaps a change of address. Em, on the other hand, is all the more determined to forge ahead, convinced they’re on the brink of an important breakthrough.

The new semester brings more than just new classrooms full of students for Professor Emmeline Prather.

Professor Prather is an English professor at a small university who is still adjusting to the dynamics of the world of higher education. Although Professor Prather finds herself in some unique social conundrums, she often looks to her friend and colleague, Lenny Jenkins, to bail her out. When the unthinkable happens and one of her students is found dead, Professor Prather and Lenny both consider there may be foul play.

Mary Angela does a great job bringing Emmeline Prather to life. When readers often think of English professors, they often reflect back to their childhood or college years. Professor Prather is definitely one English professor that I may have had in the past. Interwoven into the main character’s personality is subtle traits and quirks that I have seen in many English professors that I have had in the past. Yet, as a reader, we get to see a unique glimpse into the world of Emmeline Prather and see how the English professor’s world works from the inside out.

The plot is believable and the supporting characters are fun and have quirky traits all their own. The mystery itself, which provides the core of the plot, constantly keeps the reader guessing. The fun relationship the Professor Prather and Lenny have keeps the reader coming back. The social dynamics between faculty and student are very much at work in the book just as they are at every university.

This was a fantastic read and a lot of fun! Since this is the first book of the Cozy Mystery Series, I look forward to reading many more and cannot wait to see what Professor Emmeline Prather gets herself into next time!

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (333 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

The danger isn’t all in your head . . .

Growing up, Kate Priddy was always a bit neurotic, experiencing momentary bouts of anxiety that exploded into full blown panic attacks after an ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly ended her life. When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life.

But soon after her arrival at Corbin’s grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman named Audrey Marshall, has been murdered. When the police question her about Corbin, a shaken Kate has few answers, and many questions of her own—curiosity that intensifies when she meets Alan Cherney, a handsome, quiet tenant who lives across the courtyard, in the apartment facing Audrey’s. Alan saw Corbin surreptitiously come and go from Audrey’s place, yet he’s denied knowing her. Then, Kate runs into a tearful man claiming to be the dead woman’s old boyfriend, who insists Corbin did the deed the night that he left for London.

When she reaches out to her cousin, he proclaims his innocence and calms her nerves . . . until she comes across disturbing objects hidden in the apartment—and accidently learns that Corbin is not where he says he is. Could Corbin be a killer? And what about Alan? Kate finds herself drawn to this appealing man who seems so sincere, yet she isn’t sure. Jetlagged and emotionally unstable, her imagination full of dark images caused by the terror of her past, Kate can barely trust herself . . . So how could she take the chance on a stranger she’s just met?

Yet the danger Kate imagines isn’t nearly as twisted and deadly as what’s about to happen. When her every fear becomes very real.

And much, much closer than she thinks.

Kate was always shy and a bit nervous but she got a whole lot worse when her boyfriend lost his head and locked her in a closet for daring to speak to or about other men. Blowing his brains out with a shotgun while outside the locked closet door put her in a panic and the shock shut her down. She didn’t come home for a while. Spending time in the hospital was safe. Once she was out, she spent most of her time at home. When her cousin from London is coming to Boston to a temporary job, he offers to exchange residences with her. She can stay in his apartment and he’ll stay in hers. She agrees but she’ll be sorry.

Mr. Swanson writes a good tension-filled suspense story. He probes the minds of those who think evil thoughts. Kate was unfortunate in her life but her cousin also had a back story. He thought he’d put it behind him, but it wasn’t true. He might have left his old friend behind, but his old friend wasn’t through with him yet…

As she arrives at his apartment, she notices a lady knocking on the door of the woman across the hall. She says she didn’t show up for work and isn’t answering her phone or emails. Kate is sure she’s dead, but she tells herself not to be silly. When the cops show up and want to search the apartment, she lets them in. Then she wonders if her cousin was the killer.

This is a twisted tale with two insane men at the center of the story. Corbin’s past comes back to life and Kate almost dies from it. The ending is violent and fast. Yet, when all is said and done, Kate still has a life and even a new love. The story is torturous but the ending is sweet.

The Only Girl in China by Eric Qiao

The Only Girl in China by Eric Qiao
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (348 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Adoptee Ed Li is on a mission to find his missing sister. An elaborate plan is devised that involves him teaching in a rural Chinese village, which Ed soon discovers it isn’t his idea of a good time. In fact, when he sees a chance to quit, he takes it. But just before he can get out of Dodge, a local girl is murdered. Suspect? That Chinese teacher from America: Ed. With the help of his female colleague, Ed sets out to clear his name, uncovering a web of deceit in a village that’s on the verge of becoming a lucrative jade mine. The deeper he digs, the more horrors he unearths. With memories of his sister drawing uncanny parallels to the victim’s life, possibility of redemption and revenge looms.

Ed is Chinese and was adopted and raised by an American couple. He’s content with his life and has a trust fund to support him but he wonders about the sister that stayed behind when he was removed from the orphanage. Whatever happened to her?

China is overpopulated. They can have only one child. When that child is a girl, they often abandon them somewhere they might be found and taken in. If you can only have one child, they want a boy. This book looks at the way women are treated, the options they have to support themselves and the men who take advantage of them. It is based on facts even if this is fiction. Mr. Qiao writes a very sobering read of a place that has a history of mistreating women.

Ed hires a private investigator. He tells him the orphanage has been shut down and all the papers lost. No one knows what became of the children staying there. But Ed is determined to find her so he volunteers to go to China as a teacher in a small village as part of a UNICEF program. He won’t be paid but he will get some publicity and he’s hoping his sister will see it.

The story begins with hope, there’s a murder that Ed is accused of, and nothing happens in China without bribes. The backwoods villages have a shortage of women available for marriage so any woman there that has no one to protect or provide for her gets abused. It’s a sad story but Ed does get some justice for the mistreated women.

This look at China is like a visit to the areas they don’t want you to see. There is plenty of non-fiction out there to support Mr. Qiao story. Reading this will make you very happy you live in the US. The story reads smoothly, draws you in and pricks your interest. Just don’t let it give you nightmares.

The Sage Stone Prophecy by N. S. Wikarski

The Sage Stone Prophecy by N. S. Wikarski
Publisher: self
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (260 pages)
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Rose

Where do you hide a mysterious artifact that could change the course of history? You scatter clues to its whereabouts across the entire planet. Five objects buried beneath the rubble of lost civilizations point to the hiding place of the fabled Sage Stone. A secret society and a fanatical religious cult vie against one another in a global treasure hunt to claim the prize. The Arkana wants to preserve it for posterity. The Blessed Nephilim wants to exploit it to create a terrifying new world order. Only one faction can win. More importantly, only one can survive.

This is the seventh book in the Arcana Archaeology Adventure series and I regret I’ve not read the other books in the series. Not because this book cannot stand on its own, but because this is a darn good read and I hate that I’ve missed out on six books of this kind of writing!

The Sage Stone Prophecy is exciting, the characters are well-drawn and three dimensional, and the writing is tight—it was so exciting that I finished the book in only two nights (it was good enough that, had I had the time to read during the day to my heart’s content, I could have finished it in one day).

I don’t want to give away any spoilers—and I do plan on going back and buying the first six books in the series then rereading this again—because there are so many things going on. It reminds me a great deal of the books by Dan Brown – you not only have an exciting treasure hunt with clues that need to deciphered along the way, you will learn a lot about matriarchal societies and the role of the goddess in those.

Great job, Ms. Wikarski. I’m only sorry I was so late discovering you and this series.

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Killer Conference by Suzanne Rossi

Killer Conference by Suzanne Rossi
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (271 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Anne Jamieson and her critique partners are once again thrown into murder and mayhem while attending a writers conference. Anne starts to believe she is a dead body magnet when she finds obnoxious agent, Carmella Radcliff, stabbed to death in the ladies room. This brings Detective Gil Collins onto the scene. Anne had hoped for a relationship when he was lead detective on an earlier case she helped investigate, but lies and secrets drove them apart. The Snoop Group, as they’ve named themselves, decide to assist again, but then, a second agent is killed. The conference offers a long line of suspects and motives. Was it the best-selling author? A disgruntled editor? An angry agent? An attendee whose work was rejected? Or someone else? Time is running out and the conference will only last so long. Amid the commotion, can Gil and Anne rekindle the spark from months ago before the murderer claims Anne as a third victim?

Here’s an inside look at the publishing world. There are authors, agents, those listening to pitches and those pitching them. There is plenty of competition between agents and authors both. That’s all normal. What’s not normal is to find an agent dead in women’s bathroom…

This really is a look at the other side of just picking up a new book to read. The author talks about critique groups where they each look at each other’s work and offer suggestions for change. It’s done constructively and it helps them write better books. In this story, they have a replacement member they’ve just added that isn’t fitting in well. She knows her work is perfect. So what if the plot has been used many times in the past and the characters aren’t someone you care about? Her work is good and her book should sell. When no one will even list to her pitch, she’s upset. Is she upset enough to kill?

The story moves along smoothly, all the odd character quips seem natural and there are enough suspects to fill up the convention hall. The dead woman antagonized everyone. She was sarcastic, unkind, and didn’t care whose feelings she hurt. There’s a lot of motive there to sort through.

Anne was pleased to see the detective she’d met on a previous murder case. She had lied to him then, so she know he wasn’t going to resume their friendship as it was in the past. But she was determined to be at least friends and maybe something more.

When another agent is found in dead in his room, the case speeds up. Anne finally remembers what she had forgotten and almost gets herself killed by letting her face give her away.

It’s a fast, exciting read with lots of characters to both love and hate. It’s easy to feel sympathy for Anne who is trying to recapture a lost love, get rid of an unlikeable critique member, and stay alive.

Why not take a walk in the publishing world and see just how cut throat it is?

Love and the Pursuit of Law by C.K. Charlotte

Love and the Pursuit of Law by C.K. Charlotte
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (94 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Ivy Smythe is one of the first women admitted to practice law in England. Intelligent and independent, she hopes to work for women’s rights and defend those less fortunate. She is shocked when her law partner father insists she defend a young aristocrat accused of murdering a prostitute.

The Honorable Bryan Henderson is the son of a baron and a member of the Society of Bright Young People. His privileged life of wild parties is threatened by the death of his older brother and the discovery of a corpse at his family’s estate. The last thing he needs is a lady barrister!

While Bryan attempts to show Ivy who has the power in their relationship, Ivy struggles with her conflicting roles of barrister and attractive young woman. Together they experience the excitement of London’s Jazz Age and a growing attraction neither can deny.

Ivy’s first client is far from desirable.

Ivy has worked very hard to become and woman barrister, and she has lofty goals about the type of clients she’d like to represent. When her father insists that she take Bryan’s case, she is anything but pleased. Bryan doesn’t seem to take anything seriously, including the suspicions of murder. Can Ivy get him to see the gravity of the situation before it is too late?

Ivy is a very intelligent and pioneering spirit. She’s had to work extremely hard to achieve her goal of being a barrister, especially at this time in history. Her passion for the law and the work she does shines through in her conversations with others. Despite her zeal for her career, Ivy doesn’t command much respect. She keeps insisting she’s a barrister, but when the situation begins to feel hopeless, Ivy wilts and the glimmers of her new-found confidence fade away. She gets pushed around and distracted quite a bit by the men in her life throughout the story, especially by Bryan. She can’t be blamed for falling in love, and I understand that Ivy would want to relax and have some fun after leading very serious life. However, Bryan is suspected of murder, and I felt that she needed to be more forceful in making Bryan see how serious the situation was.

Bryan made an interesting hero. He seems like a typical playboy at first, and he sets out to distract Ivy from her purpose by dragging her to multiple parties. However, I do see quite a bit of change in Bryan as the story progresses. Underneath Bryan’s flippant exterior lies a more serious man who is masking his pain by playing a role. I think his character had more potential that I would have liked to explore in greater depth.

I enjoyed reading Love and the Pursuit of Law. It is a quick and entertaining read easily read in one sitting. Readers looking to take a spin through the Jazz Age might want give this romance a try.

The Dragon’s Staircase by McKenna Grey and Everly Archard

The Dragon’s Staircase by McKenna Grey and Everly Archard
Publisher: Cambron Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (148 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

A woman haunted by her past.

FBI Agent Alexa Kyndall devoted eight years of her life to the search for justice, showing no mercy to the guilty and depraved. When she joins a special task force to bring down a serial killer, Alexa encounters the most unexpected criminal of her career.

A man willing to do whatever it takes to save her.

When a child witnesses a brutal slaying, Alexa’s life becomes intertwined with Craig Pierson’s, a man with his own haunted past. They join forces, only to discover they must put everything on the line in a pulse-pounding struggle to protect and survive.

A killer closing in.

Nestled in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, The Dragon’s Staircase is an intriguing, nonstop adventure that will keep readers enthralled from start to finish.

Alexa was excellent at her job in the FBI. She could get inside the minds of killers and bring them to justice. Her last case was her most dangerous. Playing mind games with a head doctor is challenge at the least. Playing one with an insane man is even worse. Her last case had both those components and she almost lost her life. She’s sure she took his but there was no real proof. The fire burned everything. She’s left the FBI as a result. She just couldn’t handle the stress any more.

The authors do a good job of hooking you in the first few pages and dragging you along through the story. There’s danger everywhere. Alexa has trouble trusting people after her incident. They make you feel her fear and worry.

When the FBI call and ask her to come in because they have a similar case, she wants to say no. But she has a fear that the killer might have survived. She agrees to come in. What she finds is a young boy who witnessed a murder and is scared to death by what he’s seen. She also finds a man with him that she thinks is his father. He’s not, but he’s his protector.

The romance is slow to grow because they both don’t like being vulnerable. They need each other to keep the boy safe and themselves safe. She thinks the killer is after her again and she’s right. She just doesn’t know who the killer is this time.

The suspense doesn’t let up and it’s a fight to the end. They keep attempting to kill her and they almost succeed. This is the beginning of a new series and you can tell they will all be suspenseful and have lots of fast action. This was a very good read.

Under Her Skin by Margo Bond Collins

Under Her Skin by Margo Bond Collins
Publisher: Bathory Gate Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (268 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Daisy

Lindi Parker works hard at being human, not an easy task for a weresnake. She has no desire to search for others like her—until a new case changes everything. When Lindi learns that she’s not the only shapeshifter in the world, she realizes she might be next on a killer’s list.

In order to save herself and the abused children she works with, she will have to team up with Dr. Kade Nevala, a member of the shifter tribe responsible for eradicating weresnakes—and the most attractive man Lindi’s ever met. Even more terrifying, she’ll need to embrace her serpent side, a choice that has enormous consequences for Lindi, and for everyone around her.

Snakes are an unusual animal for the shifter subgenre, and the book has an extra twist – Margo Bond Collins knows her snakes inside out, and this is what makes the book fascinating. I learned a lot about snake characteristics and enjoyed the application of these to a shifter, and a greater shifter world. The neutral treatment of the species was refreshing for an animal often vilified in fiction. I also learned they have a nemesis: the mongoose.

My one complaint about the subject matter was that it is difficult to put a new spin on the tired shifter concept and that, although the unusual animals goes a long way toward doing this, I had no idea what a mongoose was and could have done with more explanatory imagery.

The characters themselves are well drawn and often morally grey in their choices. The protagonist, Lindi, is working against her base instincts and has put herself in a job where she is forced to be empathetic toward humans, pushing her predatory instincts to the back of her mind. Her reactions to fears of her true nature and towards prejudice in the shifter world are realistic and avoid being whiny. I enjoyed seeing her bravery and determination to do the right thing for vulnerable women and children. I one hundred percent trusted her character, and that she would not deviate from her caring tendencies. This kept me turning the pages, hoping she found a second home in the shifter community, and mentally berating those that would oppose her so rudely.

The romantic interest, Kade, is attractive and intelligent, with his own important job. However, I felt he was clever enough to realise he should have explained more about the shifter world to the clueless Lindi earlier on. This lapse was one of the only places I lost believability in both Lindi and Kade’s reactions and decisions. In line with this, I wasn’t keen on how Lindi was pushed into the shifter world with little preparation. All too often characters in shifter stories think their choice is the best and don’t consult with the individual involved. I was surprised that Lindi didn’t take more offence to this.

Romantically, Lindi and Kade should be at loggerheads due to their opposing animal natures, but they can barely keep their hands off each other. It is as if there is a mating call between them – though this is never stated. In fact, by the end of the book, I was still unsure if their attraction was a natural, human, first sight attraction or whether it was an animal instinct amplifying their feelings. I feel this could have been better explained and was waylaid by the plot. However, the steamy sexual tension between these two makes up for it. There is a constant danger in their intimate sessions, their bodies on the edge between human and animal (without crossing the line into bestiality). This heightens the emotion and tension behind the scenes, as does their relatively short length.

The non-romantic plot kept me on my toes and kept Lindi from escaping Kade’s advances. It pushed the main characters into their relationship and showed each of them how strong the other was, and how strong their emotions were. The final fight scene had me wondering who would survive, and turning pages as quickly as I could to get to the end, despite having guessed the culprit from 50-65% of the way through the book. This makes the novel perfect for a romance, but not ideal for mystery lovers.

Under Her Skin, in short, is a new twist on shifter tropes of romance, control, and a council-ruled hidden society within the human world. The romance is tense and slitheringly hot, the plot fast-paced and full of both intrigue and high emotions. There’s also a lot of mileage for a sequel where the shifter world adjusts to its new additions. If you like paranormal romance, this is not one to miss.