The Last Mile by David Baldacci

LAST
The Last Mile by David Baldacci
Publisher: Grand Central
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (417 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Convicted murderer Melvin Mars is counting down the last hours before his execution—for the violent killing of his parents twenty years earlier—when he’s granted an unexpected reprieve. Another man has confessed to the crime.

Amos Decker, newly hired on an FBI special task force, takes an interest in Mars’ case after discovering the striking similarities to his own life: Both men were talented football players with promising careers cut short by tragedy. Both men’s families were brutally murdered. And in both cases, another suspect came forward, years after the killing, to confess to the crime. A suspect who may or may not have been telling the truth.

The confession has the potential to make Melvin Mars—guilty or not—a free man. Who wants Mars out of prison? And why now?

But when a member of Decker’s team disappears, it becomes clear that something much larger—and more sinister—than just one convicted criminal’s life hangs in the balance. Decker will need all of his extraordinary brainpower to stop an innocent man from being executed.

He’s on Death Row just waiting to die. It’s the date of his execution for murdering his parents. He didn’t do it but he’s taking the fall for it. He’s resigned himself to this. Then there’s someone unusual at his cell door and he’s told someone else has confessed to the crime…

David Baldacci has been writing for years now and every one of his books is suspenseful, tense and has unexpected consequences. This one is no exception.

Melvin is going to be exonerated and set loose. His attorney says that she will sue the prison for the attempted murder of Melvin before he leaves the facility. He’s glad. He’s been in jail for twenty years and has no idea what to do for living when they let him out. It seems someone still thinks he should be dead. It’s a good thing Amos Decker has taken on his case. He thinks this guy confessing is a bit over the top but he’s not sure Melvin is guilty. He’s going to find out though.

Amos is an intriguing character. He has a faultless memory, sees colors (blue means death), and he’s driven to accomplish his goals. He won’t stop until he gets to the truth of the matter. That means he and Melvin are in danger.

Amos’ mind is dangerous. He keeps working the pieces of the puzzle in his head and puts together facts from the stories people tell him. Sometimes my head feels too full of facts. Amos just jugs ahead and sorts while driving or sitting in his room. This time, though, he’s playing with the big fish in the pond. It’ll be hard to come out ahead.

You wonder if Melvin will live long enough to be free, you question who is telling the truth, and the more the background and story start to come clear, the worse it is. If you start this book, you won’t stop until you’ve read the last page. Mr. Baldacci grabs you around the throat and starts throwing words in. You have to know how it turns out.

The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

SMOKE
The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson
Publisher: Grand Central
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (436 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Chasing a threat born in smoke…

London, 1898. Archivist Eleanora Mallory discovers a map to a legendary city . But is it the key to unravelling an ancient mystery or a clever hoax?

Compelled to find out, Ellie journeys to Central America – with a merciless enemy hot on her heels.

In a race to uncover the map’s secret first, Ellie is forced to partner with maverick archaeologist Adam Bates, a man she’s not sure she can trust. Together, they venture into an uncharted wilderness alive with smoke and shadows, where an even greater danger awaits them.

For what lies there whispering to be unearthed has the power to bring the world to its knees.

Join Ellie and Adam as they battle rivers of scorpions, plummeting waterfalls and pre-historic death traps on the journey to uncovering a deadly secret that could shake the fate of the world.

Are you ready for a grand adventure that has the flavor of an Indiana Jones tale? This one will do it for you but it would have to be Indiana Jane. Eleanor Mallory is everything that a woman of London in 1898 would not be. She’s independent, unmarried, and intelligent. She loves to learn and to explore and she manages to run across a real mystery with ties to Central America.

This story is a very exciting read with lots of action and two treacherous men after her. The author dishes out surprises, maintains the suspense from beginning to end, and makes you not want to put the book down.

When she finds there is someone after her and the map and piece of mask she has, she runs to her friend’s home. There, the lady loans her clothes, money and her name and ships her out the next day. She goes to her room at the hotel and decides to bathe. As she sits in the tub, she discovers there’s snake in there with her and she screams. That’s how she meets Adam. He busts down her door and grabs her snake. Right then and there she knows she doesn’t like him. He’s not the least embarrassed and she sure is!

The bad guys trace her even with the false name and come after her. She ends up asking Adam for help but doesn’t tell him the truth. Just offers to share the discovery with him. That costs her in the long run.

The story is violent in places but it’s just like in the movies, you just keep reading along to see the rest of the story. There are tests to be overcome, they’re almost killed several times, and you can’t foresee the next challenge or the end of the story. This is a really good action/adventure story with a side of romance thrown in. Give it a try; you won’t be disappointed.

Dangerous Territory by Emmy Curtis

TERRITORY
Dangerous Territory by Emmy Curtis
Publisher: Grand Central / Forever Yours
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (104 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

A SEXY STRANGER

Flirting with danger is reporter Grace Grainger’s modus operandi. But she’s learned the hard way not to grow attached to the soldiers she’s embedded with in Afghanistan. To escape from her pain and loneliness, she fantasizes about the hot night she spent with a gorgeous stranger three years before in D.C. Grace never thought she’d see him again—let alone need him to rescue her . . .

AN EXPLOSIVE NIGHT

Air Force Master Sergeant Josh Travers knows journalists are nothing but trouble. So when he has to risk his team’s lives to save some reporter who’s been separated from her patrol, he’s not happy—until he recognizes her stunning eyes and delicious curves. Josh has never wanted a woman like he wants Grace. He needs her—even in an Afghan cave with a sandstorm and enemy troops closing in. This might be the end for both of them—or one hell of a beginning.

The conflict between their jobs and the desire they feel for each other forces Josh and Grace to make tough decisions.

People in high-stress job situations are unlikely to have quiet family lives. If anything, the tension and stress are conducive to passionate, but dangerous, romances. Ms. Curtis makes such a situation very believable when she clearly paints the struggles, stress, guilt, and grief that Grace and Josh face in the war zone. Their inner conflicts make them very interesting characters as such, and turns their romance into a lot more than a fling or momentary release. It’s their way of finding inner peace and home.

What added an additional thrill to the story is how authentically the author described the landscape and war zone, the military operations, and the reactions of the local population. This made the dangers that Grace and Josh faced all the more real and thus the novella even more suspenseful and thrilling – and perhaps Josh’s and Grace’s romance more exhilarating.

What I’d like to read more about was Grace’s background, or Josh’s for that matter. His family back home is vaguely mentioned, but we don’t see any of the reasons for Grace’s ‘homelessness’. While this information wasn’t strictly necessary to follow the story, it would’ve added a bit more insight into the main characters.

Dangerous Territory is a story about people with demanding jobs few of us, ordinary people can imagine, but it’s a story about craving intimacy and love, too – something we can all identify with.

Power by Debra Webb

POWER
Power by Debra Webb
Publisher: Grand Central
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (290 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Agent Jess Harris is back in another thrilling installment of Debra Webb’s Faces of Evil series.Jess is ready to start the next chapter in her life as the new deputy chief of Birmingham’s major crimes division. But with her first love, Chief of Police Dan Burnett, acting as her new boss, it looks like Jess won’t be able to put the past behind her that easily.Jess has decided to focus all of her attention on work when a celebrated ballet instructor is found dead by one of her students. Though Jess’s instincts tell her otherwise, the death is ruled an accident, and the case is assigned to another division. Still, Jess can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to the story, and her investigation leads her into the worlds of Birmingham’s gang culture and its powerful elite.Now Jess’s investigation has dug a little too deep, and there’s a target painted on her own forehead. Will she be able to solve the crime before her own life is in jeopardy?

A beloved ballet teacher falls to her death with no witnesses. When it’s ruled an accident, Deputy Chief Jess Harris cries foul. Before Jess can investigate further, she’s derailed from the case by the disappearance of a straight-and-narrow kid from the wrong side of the tracks and is redirected to finding him at all costs. What she doesn’t yet know is that the more she digs, the more danger she’s putting herself into.

I’m still having a bit of a love and hate relationship with Jess. I understand that she has to be arrogant, determined and sometimes a bit pushy to get things done, especially in such a male-dominated profession, but her constant refusal to accept any kind of help makes me a bit crazy. She is slowly learning, however, and if she’d just let go of her pride a tiny bit, she’d be a much more likable person. However, as a detective, all those things that make me crazy, make her awesome. That she doesn’t let propriety or Southern hospitality get in the way of getting answers makes me proud.

Jess and Dan have a new obstacle to overcome in this novel, in addition to all the crazies that seem to populate Birmingham. Their attempts to find a balance between work and fun isn’t as easy as they’d hoped it’d be. I found it very interesting to see how such a career-minded woman handles a budding relationship with a man who is essentially her boss.

Each new installment in the Faces of Death series by Debra Webb is better than the last. I love the way that they pick up within days or even hours of the previous book ending. I just think this poor woman needs a new identity if she’s going through this much in two weeks’ time! Power was an exciting and enjoyable mystery touched with enough romance to soften up the harsher edges of the crimes being investigated. The author does a fantastic job of getting to the nitty-gritty of the case while balancing it out with humor or love. I love this series – and author – more and more with each novel.

A Passion for Pleasure by Nina Rowan

PASSION
A Passion for Pleasure by Nina Rowan
Publisher: Grand Central
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (384 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Prelude to a Kiss

A brilliant pianist and notorious rake, Sebastian Hall indulges his passion for music and women with equal aplomb. But now that his elder brother has married, his father insists he pursue a more respectable path and find a suitable wife.

Music to Her Ears

As a girl, Clara Whitmore quietly loved her piano teacher from afar. Yet her youthful crush cannot compare to the powerful desire she feels when she unexpectedly meets Sebastian again. Perhaps the man who once dominated her dreams could be the husband she has hoped for—and save her from the fate she most fears.

Love Strikes a Chord

Risking scandal, ruin, and their own reputations, Sebastian and Clara enter into a marriage of convenience. But the pair soon discovers that their undeniable attraction is anything but convenient. Swept up in a crescendo of desire, Sebastian and Clara take each other to new heights of ecstasy—until secrets from the past threaten to doom the duet forever. Now Sebastian will have to change his tune—and prove his love is true.

When Sebastian and Clara come face to face for the first time after many years, she’s just as enamored as she was as a young woman. He’s oblivious to who she even is. But he’s not oblivious to the effect she has on him. When they discover their attraction is very much mutual, the trouble begins. Each holds a secret they don’t want to make public, but together can they find a way to satisfy the other’s needs and find happiness too?

Clara Whitmore is desperate for help and she’ll stop at nothing to get it. That includes proposing to her one-time piano teacher, Sebastian Hall. Lucky for her he just happens to be the handsome and charming son of an earl. Clara’s self-sacrifice and single-minded determination to get back what she’s lost is both endearing and a bit crazy. The author does well with balancing her crazy moments with her more clear-headed ones.

Sebastian Hall’s life of doing as he pleases has come to an end. Coming on the heels of his brother’s marriage, his father has given him an ultimatum of marry or else. When Clara, frantic with need, gives him the perfect opportunity to make his father happy, he agrees. What he doesn’t expect is to find a woman full of passion – and secrets. I’ve always been a sucker for musicians and Sebastian is no exception. He’s witty, he’s charming and he’s handsome. Not to mention that he’s harboring his own secrets. His situation really spoke to me though and his desire to keep it quiet was more than just stubborn pride.

I’ll admit I was a bit wary of the idea of marrying for the sake of meeting obligations, but the author did an excellent job of making it work. Together, Clara and Sebastian are a dynamite couple who are compatible both in and out of the bedroom. When Sebastian pulls a surprise move near the end of the novel, you really find out just how perfect they are for one another. I couldn’t have been happier at that moment.

A Passion for Pleasure is a romantic and humorous story about desperation and the acts that accompany it. Both steamy and exciting, this historical novel was a true joy to read.

Rage by Debra Webb

RAGE
Rage by Debra Webb
Publisher: Grand Central
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (368 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

When Jess Harris moved back to her Alabama hometown, she thought she’d left her past behind her. But the blood bath the new Major Crimes deputy chief finds at a murder scene is beyond even the savagery of Eric Spears, the serial killer who now haunts Jess’s life with terrifying text messages. Amid eerie echoes of the Charles Manson massacre, Jess investigates the dismemberment of a cop’s wife while her baby lay sleeping down the hall.

The discovery of two more headless victims makes Jess wonder if it’s a gang-related slaying, a personal vendetta . . . or something else. And the sudden reappearance of her ex-husband makes her question her future with Chief of Police Dan Burnett. Now as the net widens to include a shocking suspect, Jess realizes that the identity of the killer may lie with an autistic eight-year-old boy. With inner-city tensions at an all-time high and the community calling for blood, Jess must race to save an innocent child-and prevent a final, horrifying act of rage.

The wife of one of Birmingham’s own is brutally murdered in their own home and the only witness is an eight-year-old autistic boy. When two more headless bodies are found, Jess is forced to wonder if the murders are related or if someone’s trying to scare her. The case turns into a race against time when Devon, the witness to the murder, comes up missing and it’s up to Jess and her posse to find him before it’s too late.

Jess has a lot of character growth in this installment. She learns to let go just a tiny bit and let others help her. In addition, she finds a real place of her own so she can begin to settle back into her life in Birmingham. I’m thinking this is the step she needed to stop being Chief Deputy Jess Harris or even Special Agent Harris twenty-four hours a day.

The relationship between Jess and Dan is strained in this novel when Jess’ ex-husband, Wesley, arrives from Los Angeles to help out on the possible gang involvement in one of the murders. It was interesting to see Jess interact with her former husband, it gave you some insight to her current state of being. It was also kind of fun to watch Dan get twisted up over the whole situation as well.

Probably my favorite part of this series is the way the author weaves the main plot with the subplots started in previous novels. For instance, in this fourth installment, you have the underlying threat of The Player, Eric Spears, as well as the tension with the Latino gang, MS-13, playing in the background while Jess runs around solving her cases. These subplots give depth to the novels and, for me, make them much more enjoyable. I really hope that the next book addresses the threat of The Player more because he is what started this all and I would love to see him again.

Rage is, in my opinion, my favorite of the series so far. Each novel builds on the last and the level of intensity moves up a notch. The Faces of Death has rapidly become one of my favorite series this year and I’m not sure I can hold out until July for the next release – I’m that hooked. What will Jess, Dan, and the Birmingham Police Department find lurking in their town next? We can only wait and find out.

The Sweet Spot by Laura Drake

SWEET
The Sweet Spot by Laura Drake
Publisher: Grand Central
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (307 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

A Love as Big as Texas . . .

Charla Rae Denny was the perfect wife with a perfect life, content to keep the home fires burning while her husband, JB, competed as a champion bull rider. Then their son died in a tragic accident-and everything fell apart. Divorced and saddled with a hill of bills and a failing ranch, Charla must now cowboy up to put her life back together.

James “JB” Denny doesn’t stay where he isn’t welcome. So when Charla shut him out of her grieving heart-and their home-a year ago, he took comfort where he could find it. Now after seeing beautiful Charla again, he wants it all back. She can’t work the ranch alone, and deep in his heart he knows he can be the man she needs. But after so much history and heartbreak, can JB convince Charla to take a risk and give their love a second chance?

Cowboys and lost love is a combination that melts your heart and The Sweet Spot does just that. Early in the story Ms. Drake gives us a hint of what drove this couple apart and hints that a tragic event took place. Both Charla and JB are likeable characters I have to admit I did find myself more on JB’s side, because he’s funny, not at all perfect and Ms. Drake portrays his vulnerability perfectly as the story progresses.

I think she also did a wonderful job with the setting; the ranch was so well described that I felt like I was really there. And also the rodeo circuit where JB works came to life too. Secondary characters seemed true to life which rounded out the story.

The book cover did say new author and I think Ms. Drake’s made a promising debut with this story. I’ll be looking for more books by her. If you love an emotional read with a cowboy thrown in for good measure, The Sweet Spot would be a good pick.

It Had To Be You by Jill Shalvis

HAD
It Had To Be You by Jill Shalvis
Publisher: Grand Central
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (327 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Ali Winters is not having a good day. Her boyfriend left her, everyone in town thinks she’s a thief, and now she’s about to be kicked out of her home. Her only shot at keeping a roof over her head and clearing her name is to beg for help from a police detective who’s as sexy as he is stern….

After a high-profile case goes wrong, Luke Hanover returns to his hometown for some peace and quiet. Instead he finds a bombshell brunette in a heap of trouble. As he helps Ali put her world back together, the pieces of Luke’s own life finally seem to fall into place. Is this the start of a sizzling fling? Or are Luke and Ali on the brink of something big in a little town called Lucky Harbor?

It’s always fun reading a book by a new to you author and I’m glad I got to read this one by Ms. Shalvis. There’s nothing more fun than a character who runs into trouble almost from page one.

Ali is a likeable character who I found myself cheering for, especially when things go downhill every quickly for her. It seems like life is out to get her. But this is a romance, so there’s bound to be a knight in shining armor and it’s in the shape of Luke. He’s sexy and very likeable, tough, but gentle, and you know he’s just right for Ali. If only she can get out of her current problem of trying to clear her name and that’s what makes you turn the page.

I especially liked the setting of this book and the name, Lucky Harbor that Ms. Shalvis did a wonderful job describing and weaving little pieces of information about this make believe Northwest town throughout the book. And then there’s the supporting cast of characters who are all either quirky or people you dislike because they’re standing in the way of either Luke or Ali’s happy ending. If you’re looking for something to add to your summer reading list this might be a good pick for you.

Impulse by Debra Webb

IMPULSE
Impulse by Debra Webb
Publisher: Grand Central
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Her nightmare isn’t over yet . . .

The Player is a master in the art of torture and murder. No one had ever gotten close to capturing him until Special Agent Jess Harris targeted him with her relentless determination. Jess’s actions may have cost her a job with the bureau, but the Player still wants his vengeance and he’ll make Jess pay in ways she never imagined. The first victim is Jess’s friend-and the killer won’t stop there. With each new death Jess becomes more certain that the only way to stop the Player is to give him what he really wants: her.

Chief of Police Dan Burnett is determined to give Jess her confidence and her life back. With an offer on the table, a position as deputy chief of a new division, can Jess risk staying in her hometown and putting those around her in more danger? Or will she walk away to protect everyone she loves-including Dan, who just may want her back in his arms? The stakes are high, and a single impulse will determine who survives the Player’s final, deadly game . . .

They solved the case, all five girls were returned home alive and relatively unharmed. Jess Harris thinks she has time to take a breath, relax for a moment, gather her thoughts, but she’s wrong. The Player has been watching her – and her newfound teammates – and has been plotting. When Detective Lori Wells disappears, Jess realizes that the game has only just begun and that the Player isn’t so easily fooled.

This second installment in the Faces of Death series kicks off with a bang. Picking up only hours after Obsession ended, Impulse keeps the rapid pace set in the first novel and then ratchets it up. As much as I enjoyed Obsession, this second novel was even better.

Jess Harris has been through hell and back lately and it’s only about to get worse. Being targeted by a suspected serial killer can’t be fun. I do have to say that her character was much more approachable in this installment and I really grew to sympathize with her, which was a good thing. She did what she had to still, but came across as much more relatable this time around.

Dan Burnett, Birmingham Police Chief, has only one concern and that is keeping Jess safe. Even when it antagonizes her to no end, he still puts her safety before his own. I like Dan a lot and really enjoyed the brief bit of relationship development you get between them. I really hope that they work on it more throughout the next few novels as they make a great couple. Each is strong and independent, capable of being on their own, but they each also have their own little weaknesses that the other needs to attend to.

Oddly enough, I think my favorite character in this novel was the bad guy – The Player. Sophisticated, reserved, and thoroughly evil, he fascinated me and, to a point, charmed me. He is definitely the character I want to know more about, especially his motive in doing what he does.

Impulse was a wild ride of twists and unexpected turns that kept me reading long after I knew I should have stopped. Although part of the ending was a touch predictable, I understand why it went the way it did. Despite that, this was a highly enjoyable, completely engaging thriller that thrilled me to my toes. Highly recommended to any lover of intense, sometimes graphic thrillers.

Obsession by Debra Webb

OBESESSION
Obsession by Debra Webb
Publisher: Grand Central
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

The Faces of Evil Series: Book 1 She thought she’d left the murders-and his obsession-behind . . .

Special Agent Jess Harris has spent more than a decade studying the many faces of evil. In her determination to stop a serial killer, she broke the rules, and it cost her everything. With her career in need of resuscitation and her love life dead and buried, Jess jumps at a chance to advise on a case that has the top detectives of Birmingham, Alabama, stumped. But the case forces her to confront all the reasons she put her hometown-and her first love-in her rearview mirror.

Four young women have gone missing, and Police Chief Dan Burnett will do anything to find them before it’s too late-even if it means asking for help from the woman who has spent a decade avoiding him. Jess agrees to lend a hand and welcomes the diversion of a new case, a new life to save to make up for the victims she’s lost. But then the unthinkable happens: the crazed serial killer from her past follows Jess to Birmingham. The situation is becoming increasingly desperate-and time is swiftly running out . . .

Special Agent Jess Harris isn’t having the best week. Staring at the inevitable loss of her job and the humiliation of having screwed up in a big way, she figures helping out her one-time boyfriend with a case couldn’t do her any more harm than she’d already done herself. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that the crazed serial killer that had cost her job is about to find her.

Jess Harris is a tough character to get to like. She’s strong, independent, and spunky, but she’s also had a huge blow to her ego as well as her confidence. It’s this last part that makes her a bit unlikable in the beginning. She’s so determined to do everything on her own and in her own way that she doesn’t care whose toes she might step on. Thankfully, as she becomes more a part of the group and less the outsider, she loosens up a little bit. That said, once she lets the petty things go, she becomes a virtual force of nature in profiling the kidnapper of the missing women. She’s bright, she’s sharp, and she’s very, very good at her job. I think I liked her more in her obsessive agent mode than when she was just simply Jess. I’m looking forward to seeing more character growth with her in the next novel because she has the potential to be a great person to know.

Police Chief Dan Burnett is Jess Harris’ complete opposite. Warm and friendly and so very southern from the get-go, he’s a very likable character, even though he does have his moments. In a sense, he’s in a similar situation as Jess. These missing women have him stumped and his department has little to no evidence tying anyone to the crime. At times, he lets his pride get in the way, but for all intents and purposes, he admits to it and moves on much more quickly than Jess does. However, because of this, the two of them are very dynamic as a couple – both romantic and as investigating partners. Their tendency to butt heads a bit before compromising holds a lot of promise for romantic sparks later on.

Obsession is a joyride of emotions from the very first page. Between the main story of the missing women and the backstory involving the serial killer that Jess had been attempting to arrest, there is constantly something happening to keep you on your toes. The author’s style and the whirlwind of events in the story made this a fast read for me and the shocking conclusion has left me eager for the sequel.