All Or Nothing by John Carson

All Or Nothing by John Carson
Publisher: Vellum
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Practice makes perfect. Even in death.

DCI Harry McNeil is back at the helm, joined by his old friend, DI Frank Miller. He is juggling his private life with being a single father, running a new Major Investigation Team, and spending time with a woman who may or may not become more than just friends.

Edinburgh at New Year is a time for celebration, fun, and for one person, murder.

The festivities leading up to Hogmanay are tinged with fear as Harry’s team gets a shout when the murdered body of a woman is found floating in the Water of Leith near the docks.

A vicious killer has left his mark and Harry’s new team is put to the test.

But with time running out, the killer is going to be knocking on Harry McNeil’s door, in more ways than one…

It’s Christmas and DCI Harry McNeil is spending the festive season with his infant daughter, Grace, and his new “slightly more than a friend” female companion, Morgan. Just as Harry decides to go with the flow and welcome Morgan more firmly into his life, work intrudes with a particularly vicious killing that falls into the hands of his team. Can Harry juggle his many responsibilities in amongst all the craziness of the Christmas season?

This is quite a thicker book than many of the preceding Harry McNeil mysteries and I was really excited to find there were a number of solid plotlines all woven very well together. Add in Harry appears to be moving forward in his private life as well and there is quite a bit going on in this Scottish police procedural mystery/suspense novel.

Speaking personally, I do feel it’s a little too soon for Harry to be getting entangled in another woman and what appears will become yet another serious relationship for him. It’s only been about seven months since the very surprising death of his wife and ex-working-partner, Alex, and with a fairly small baby daughter (also only seven months old) and two other previously serious romantic relationships behind him a part of me strongly thought this would be a good time for Harry to focus on Grace, his work and getting the non-romantic aspects of his life on solid ground. So I found it hard to get on board with the blossoming relationship with the psychiatrist and felt this aspect to Harry’s life was a little shoe-horned into the story. I especially thought this considering his sister-in-law is living in his house as a mostly full-time career for baby Grace while Harry is off solving crimes at work. It all just didn’t really come together for me, and I didn’t feel a good connection to Morgan’s character, either.

That said – I was really impressed with the multi-layered nature of the murder mystery side of the plot. There is what appears to be an accidental death of a hiker falling off a bridge in Glasgow and body of a murdered woman floating near the docks in Edinburgh – so Harry and his team more than have their hands full as they try to uncover what’s going on and what plans the vicious killer has. I found this aspect of the two plotlines and how the Glasgow and Edinburgh teams worked solidly together was exceptionally well written and had the comfortable, familiar banter that I’ve come to expect from a Harry McNeil book. All the regular characters that a reader wants from the previous novels are present and while the banter and interactions might seem a bit much for readers who are newer to the series, I personally loved it.

Readers looking for a rambunctious romp of a Scottish police procedural mystery should find this a really good read and I thought this was a great addition to the series. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Maggie’s List by Brittany Severn

Maggie’s List by Brittany Severn
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Ivy loses her twin sister, Maggie, to cancer, she discovers a secret journal to be read after her death. Ivy discovers that Maggie has a bucket list that she was unable to complete. To honor her sister, Ivy sets out to complete it on Maggie’s behalf.

As Ivy works through her grief, visiting all the places Maggie never got to see, she finds herself in Scotland. Eager to tick off a few more items on her list, Ivy teams up with Evan, a handsome tour guide. Pouring her heart out in the journal, Ivy soon realizes that her old life is gone, but a new one might be ready to begin.

Every day is a fresh page in the book of life.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how many loose ends surviving relatives must tie up after someone dies. This can be something as simple as cleaning and organizing a bedroom all the way to far more complex tasks like, say, finishing a bucket list. I was especially intrigued by the way Ivy’s grief leaked through sometimes as she checked these tasks off her to-do list. This was such a realistic approach to the process of grieving and healing after a terrible loss.

I would have liked to see more character development in this novella. While Ivy was an interesting protagonist, there wasn’t enough time spent exploring how she changed as a result of her sister’s death and the trips she took after the funeral. There was plenty of material for her to work with. I simply needed to see more examples of her personal growth in order to feel comfortable giving this a higher rating.

The romance was handled nicely. Grief can be all-consuming, especially when someone as young as Maggie dies, so I was curious to see how the author would balance Ivy’s grief for her twin with her budding romance with Evan. Luckily, the romantic scenes were handled sensitively and gave Ivy plenty of time to say goodbye to her sister before she thought of what she wanted to do with her life next. It was also cool to see space left for a possible sequel. I don’t know if Ms. Severn has one in the works, but I’ll happily read it if she does!

Maggie’s List made me smile.

Fatal Hunt by Michelle Godard-Richer

Fatal Hunt by Michelle Godard-Richer
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc
Genre: Contemporary, Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

After being widowed and surviving the wrath of a serial killer, Jessica believes her misfortunes are over. She’s reunited with her first love, Jon, and together, with her son Bryce, and a baby on the way, they’re living their happily ever after on their ranch in Montana. That is until secrets, lies, and a formidable foe from Jon’s past emerge to shake the foundation of their relationship, forcing them to flee for their lives.

A decade earlier, Jon worked undercover for the FBI. He infiltrated Hugh Jones’ Kansas City Mob, and almost destroyed his empire. Unaware of the breach in his own defenses, Hugh, obsessed with revenge, unleashes every weapon in his arsenal, targeting those Jon loves the most.

All seems to finally be going well for Jessica and Jon Kent until the head of the Kansas City Mob is set on seeking revenge for Jon’s betrayal. Will the Kent family survive this fatal hunt?

Fatal Hunt has an interesting and suspenseful plot. The characters are tender and likable, yet ferocious. Jon Kent has retired from working as an FBI agent and is very familiar to violence but yet he is a loving father, husband and farm owner. Head of the Kansas City Mob, Hugh Jones holds his title very well as he has a violent reputation but soon finds a soft spot. I like that the author showed the men’s strength, but readers also get to see their gentle side. The author definitely planted an emotional hook that remains throughout the chase.

The story is told from multiple points of view which I think was a great idea. This gives the reader the full story and helps the reader understand all sides of what is happening. In addition to being hunted by the mob boss this story has a lot going on. Secrets are revealed, a mysterious woman has helped Jessica on more than one occasion, there are twists and surprises that kept me reading. I thought the story had too much going on for one book and it would be better to spread out the side stories. Jessica was stalked by a serial killer, her son Bryce was previously kidnapped, her deceased husband is now a paranormal supernatural guardian, Jessica’s friend was murdered by her husband, and Jon is also a widow and now the family is on the run for their lives. There was just too much misfortune for such nice people to have in one novel. Even though the family had a lot going on, the relationship between Jessica and Jon was very endearing to read. The plot has an edge that gives something in addition to the romance, following Jessica and Jon along the states and Canada as they run from the army of killers chasing them.

I enjoyed the author’s way of telling the story. I can actually see myself witnessing the story firsthand because of the author’s skill with words. My favorite scene would be when the men had an encounter with Jessica’s aunt. Those men did not stand a chance against Aunt Debbie. She showed them what an old lady can do.

I enjoyed the story; it is well written, and I am glad I was able to finish until the surprising end. It didn’t reach my highly recommended list, but I would definitely recommend it to readers that enjoy an intriguing suspense that revolves around the protection of family.

The Thong Principle: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say by donalee Moulton

The Thong Principle: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say by donalee Moulton
Publisher: Business Expert Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Thong Principle has little to do with beachwear and everything to do with effective communication. It’s about ensuring messages are successful for the sender – and the receiver.

The book delves into the elements that comprise successful communications – conciseness, clarity, concreteness, and much more. It also puts those elements into context. Communications that miss the mark confuse and annoy. They fail to deliver their message. They damage our credibility and erode goodwill.

The Thong Principle overflows with real-world examples to help us understand why we fail to get our messages across as intended.

Then it explains how we can anticipate, identify, and correct errors and oversights. This is both at the highest level – including building and maintaining trust – and down in the weeds where even one word makes a difference.

The Thong Principle will draw you in and keep you reading with:
Information that resonates.
It’s also funny. Laughter and learning are wonderful partners.

Clear communication makes everything easier.

The most memorable passages were the ones that shared stories about various written forms of communication that accidentally gave their recipients the wrong first impression. For example, one letter began with compliments only to abruptly deny a request to place a sign on private property. It was a jarring thing for me to read and was no doubt even more upsetting for the person who had made the request. Tone matters, and anecdotes like this one explained why a softer approach does not necessarily have to come with flowery language or vague writing.

It would have been helpful to have more concrete information about what to look for when revising a piece of business writing. While this was covered briefly in a section or two, I would have appreciated a more condensed list of what should and should not be included in, say, a letter to a client or an email to one’s boss. I would have happily chosen a higher star rating if it had been included.

I appreciated how many examples the author shared of messages that were and were not easy to understand. Her commentary about what made one message effective and another one too dense or vague was even more helpful. This is the sort of writing advice that works better when the audience has plenty of opportunities to practice their skills and learn to correct imprecise communication.

The Thong Principle: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say was a thought-provoking read.

Travel For As Long As You Wish: The Blueprint For Budget Travel, Backpacking And Escaping The Rat Race by Mark James Murphy

Travel For As Long As You Wish: The Blueprint For Budget Travel, Backpacking And Escaping The Rat Race by Mark James Murphy
Publisher: Amazon KDP
Genre: Non-fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

Learn how to escape the 9 to 5 and live your dream life, without delaying any longer!

What if you could say goodbye to the daily grind and fill every day with adventure and experiences, packed with true value and meaning right now?

From humble North-East roots, in the industrial city of Sunderland, U.K to becoming an artist, adventurer and teacher, Mark James Murphy did exactly that and wants to show how it’s possible for everyone.

This book gives you the ultimate tools and knowledge to get unstuck from the rut of the rat race once and for all and travel for as long as you wish. Whether you are young and inexperienced in travel or a seasoned globetrotter or you have retired and have more time on your hands to explore the world, this book will give you the very latest travel advice and explore the following topics:
How to prepare for your trip, what and how to pack
The latest digital devices for travelling and useful apps
Insightful personal experiences from my own adventures
Reasons why we want to travel and what meaningful travel is
Why you can travel with very little money
How to find your own value and generate finances from this as you travel
Avoid scams while in a new country
Great tips and discount information for senior travelers

Travel For As Long As You Wish is a great resource and is good for both first time travelers as well as those who haven’t traveled in some time and would like to get back into the habit! I loved the detailed tips and suggestions. I also appreciated that the author used many of his own personal experiences and lessons he’s learned along the way as examples of how to get the most out of your journey.

While this one focuses quite a bit on the Middle East and similar destinations, since that is the author’s preferred travel region, many of these tips are things that can easily be modified to fit other travel locations as well. He also mentioned teaching classes online or other similar jobs as a great way to make traveling possible. This is also a wonderful way to both practice skills to avoid getting rusty and gain useful connections. This option makes it possible to work and afford to live anywhere you want without being limited on job options based on location as there are countless things that can be taught, and good teachers are always in demand.

This was a wonderful read for those looking to fit more into their travel plans, would love to travel, but don’t know where to start, or those who are just looking for ways to up their travel game. This book is sure to have a little for everyone and is both a quick and entertaining read!

When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris

When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Genre: YA (ages 14+), Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

When you look like us—brown skin, brown eyes, black braids or fades—everyone else thinks you’re trouble. No one even blinks twice over a missing Black girl from public housing because she must’ve brought whatever happened to her upon herself. I, Jay Murphy, can admit that, for a minute, I thought my sister Nicole just got caught up with her boyfriend—a drug dealer—and his friends. But she’s been gone too long. Nic, where are you?

If I hadn’t hung up on her that night, she would be at our house, spending time with Grandma.

If I was a better brother, she’d be finishing senior year instead of being another name on a missing persons list.

It’s time to step up, to do what the Newport News police department won’t.

Bring her home.

He’s determined to find his sister, and no one will stand in his way.

I’ve read a few books like this one, but this was a fresh take on the ‘find my sister’ trope. It felt real. It was like reading what a friend would be saying. I felt for Jay immediately and I liked how he was human about the whole thing–first he thought she was missing and on drugs, then he started to realize it might be worse than he expected. He’s a good younger brother and he’s determined.

This read very realistically, too, in that this isn’t an easy investigation. As the title insists, for people like Jay, it’s not easy to find your missing siblings. The cops dismiss him, even though they know his grandmother, and the people he has to talk to aren’t the greatest characters in the neighborhood. It’s tough and as I read, which I flew through, I rooted for him to find her, but I also knew stories like this don’t always end well.

I liked his interactions with Riley and Bowie. Like a regular teen, Jay dismisses them at times, but realizes he needs more than just himself to make this work. Riley was my favorite character because she was more than she seemed and so sweet, but determined as well, and not willing to give up on Jay or his sister.

The twist at the end was one I didn’t see coming and I liked it. The ending was satisfying, though life rarely is satisfying, and I’m glad it turned out how it did.

If you want a story that will make you think, make you feel and root for the characters, then this might be the one for you. Recommended.

Ryan’s Christmas by LJ Ross

Ryan’s Christmas by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Christmas can be murder…

After a busy year fighting crime, DCI Ryan and his team of murder detectives are enjoying a festive season of goodwill, mulled wine and, in the case of DS Phillips, a stottie cake or two—that is, until a freak snowstorm forces their car off the main road and into the remote heart of Northumberland. Their Christmas spirit is soon tested when they’re forced to find shelter inside England’s most haunted castle, where they’re the uninvited guests at a ‘Candlelit Ghost Hunt’. It’s all fun and games—until one of the guests is murdered. It seems no mortal hand could have committed the crime, so Ryan and Co. must face the spectres living inside the castle walls to uncover the grisly truth, before another ghost joins their number…

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

It’s the week before Christmas and DCI Ryan and his wife have spent an enjoyable weekend day with Ryan’s colleague’s and their best friends Frank and Denise at the Edinburgh Christmas festival. On their trip back home, however, the weather turns against them and they’re forced off the main road and into the wilds of Northumberland. Seeking refuge inside England’s most haunted castle, they find themselves uninvited guests at a “Candlelight Ghost Hunt” while staying overnight. They try to take the fun in stride, only to find a real-life murder has taken place and their holiday cheer quickly becomes the grim reality of finding yet another murderer before the year is out.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this series and was excited to find this slightly shorter Christmas-themed story. Despite the slightly shorter length (but still a solid 250 ish pages) everything I as a reader enjoy about the regular books in this series was here on display in this Christmassy story as well. Ryan, Anna, Frank and Denise are well-rounded characters and have been working together seamlessly for a number of years – this being the 15th book in the series – and yet I still feel readers new to the author and series could pick this story up and find a fun murder-mystery and police procedural style of story. I do feel readers who have read at least a few of the previous books and understand some of the history and friendship between the main characters will find a deeper emotional connection to the book and characters, but I don’t feel that knowledge is necessary to enjoy this book on its own merits.

Readers who enjoy an older style – almost Agatha Christie-esque – small town, who dunnit, style of closed-door murder mystery should find this book right up their alley. At the party in the castle there are a finite number of characters assembled who had access to the body and so unlike many of the other books in this series the set-up wasn’t traditional to find a list of possible candidates but more to just figure out who present had the means, motive and opportunity. I also feel this style of mystery lent itself to the slightly shorter length of the book which was a clever move by the author.

I found this an enjoyable and solidly plotted read with a good Christmas theme and a solid murder mystery. The slightly slower pace of the police procedural mode of solving the puzzle appealed strongly to me and while readers used to more action orientated plots might find it a little slow, I personally thoroughly enjoyed the more realistic pace.

A good book with strong characters and a well-planned plot – this was a great and fun read I enjoyed.

A Very Private Woman by Connor Whiteley

A Very Private Woman by Connor Whiteley
Publisher: CGD Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An Invitation Like No Other. Sister Rivalry. A Very Private Woman.

Nothing is as it seems.

Private Eye Bettie English receives a visitor. She hears a top-secret job offer. Bettie knows something is afoot.

Bettie needs to find the truth.

If you enjoy gripping, unputdownable private eye mysteries holding you from the first to last word. You will love this book!

Be careful whom you trust.

The pregnancy subplot added some nice twists to this mystery. I can’t say much about it without giving away spoilers, but I liked seeing how the author used common pregnancy symptoms to encourage his characters to do certain things that they probably would not have otherwise done. This isn’t something I’ve seen very often in this genre, and I found it refreshing to have such an ordinary but important part of life included in the character arcs.

While I understand that there are additional books coming about Bettie and the other characters, I did find myself wishing that the narrator had spent more time on character development in this introduction to their world. I certainly didn’t expect to figure everything out about the characters right away, but it would be tricky for me to describe their personalities in depth at the moment. My fingers are crossed that we’ll get to know Bettie and the people closest to her better in the future because I really wanted to give this a higher rating. The storyline itself was exciting and fun.

Speaking of the plot, I enjoyed the author’s dedication to keeping everything moving along at a quick pace. That was an excellent choice for this particular mystery, and it kept my interest levels high from the first scene to the last one. There was always something to urge me to continue reading for just one more page which was a wonderful excuse to ignore the outside world for a while and see what happened next.

A Very Private Woman was an intriguing start to a new mystery series.

*Cold-Blooded Liar by Karen Rose

*Cold-Blooded Liar by Karen Rose
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group, Berkley
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Sam Reeves is a kindhearted psychologist who treats court-ordered clients. After one of his patients—a pathological liar—starts revealing plausible new details from a long-unsolved serial murder case, he’s compelled to report anonymously to the SDPD tip line, though his attempts to respect patient confidentiality land him facedown and cuffed by the aggressive (and cute) Detective McKittrick.

San Diego homicide detective Kit McKittrick loves the water. She lives on a boat, and when she’s not solving crimes with the SDPD, she’s assisting her foster sister with her charter fishing business or playing with her poodle. But there’s nothing that intrigues Kit more than a cold case, so when an anonymous caller leads her on the path of a wanted killer, she’s determined to end the decade-long manhunt.

Sam is soon released but goes home with both a newfound distaste for the SDPD and a resolve—not unlike Kit’s—to uncover the truth. Kit and Sam repeatedly butt heads in their separate investigations but are forced to work together to find one of the deadliest serial killers the city has faced in years.

Cold-Blooded Liar is a fast paced, thrilling ride. It is filled with colorful and entertaining characters, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout the entire book. I was quickly turning the pages because I needed to know what would happen next in this intriguing story.

The main character in the story is Kit, a homicide detective. She works hard on all her cases and also tries to solve many cold cases when she has some free time. She has a good reputation and is respected by her peers.

Kit meets Dr. Sam Reeves, a psychologist when he becomes a suspect in a serial murder case she is working on. Sam is a good guy who gets in trouble trying to do the right thing.

There is an immediate attraction between Sam and Kit but neither of them take the next step while trying to solve the case. This is a slow burn romance with an unresolved ending to Sam and Kit’s romance. I wish there was an epilogue at the end of the story letting me know how everything worked out between them.

I love reading suspenseful stories and I like everything Karen Rose writes. She knows how to paint a picture with intricate plot weaving. The characters in this story are believable and easy to relate to and I found myself devouring every word.

The Gray Man by Mark Greaney

The Gray Man by Mark Greaney
Publisher: Sphere (Penguin House)
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

To those who lurk in the shadows, he’s known as the Gray Man. He is a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible and then fading away. And he always hits his target. Always.

But there are forces more lethal than Gentry in the world. Forces like money. And power. And there are men who hold these as the only currency worth fighting for. And in their eyes, Gentry has just outlived his usefulness.

But Court Gentry is going to prove that, for him, there’s no gray area between killing for a living and killing to stay alive….

Court Gentry lurks in the shadows – quietly killing the targets he’s given then fading back away. Only when a powerful man is determined to spare nothing to ensure Court’s head becomes his newest trophy does Court’s carefully crafted world come tumbling down. With even his closest allies forced against him, Court needs to dig deep and use everything he’s got to escape with his life.

I found this to be a really well paced and solidly plotted “secret assassin has the tables turned” sort of story. While superficially this is like a number of other stories out there, I found that I quickly got sucked into enjoying both Court’s character and eager to see how things would unfold next. While he isn’t an anti-hero like many assassin characters are nowadays – there are still small amounts of loyalty and patriotism inside Court’s makeup – Court is also extremely pragmatic and doesn’t yearn for things to be different or for a lifestyle that simply isn’t achievable for him anymore. I found this quite endearing, and it really helped sell me on his character and the book as a whole.

I absolutely admit I felt a fair bit of sympathy for Court’s handler – Donald Fitzroy. Without giving too much away I strongly feel he was put in a horrendous situation – a genuine “no win” sort of position – and while we all might be able to talk about various options or differences in how we would handle such a thing, I truly felt like Fitzroy did the best he could. Certainly, Gentry was given a raw deal having to fend for his life, but I definitely feel like Fitzroy had an equally bad time of the entire situation. It’s not often I feel deep empathy for a secondary character and not the main protagonist, so this surprised me and helped the book feel fresh and different to me.

Readers looking for an exciting, action orientated espionage style of story should feel this really fits the bill. There are a bunch of cannon-fodder character deaths and plenty of shoot ‘em up scenes without an extreme amount of gore or dwelling on the violence. The bad guys here are actually bad – so I did feel in places the story got a bit gritty – readers looking for something a little easier or gentle might not find this fits the bill for them.

A fast paced and interesting thriller, this is a great book. I’ll be looking for the next in the series.